Serotonin Syndrome: A Serious Drug Reaction That Can Ruin Your Life

Serotonin is a natural chemical that helps regulate attention and various body functions. A peak in serotonin levels in your body induces serotonin syndrome. This increase in serotonin can occur due to many factors.

As a whole, serotonin syndrome ruined my life! How did that happen?

Often, patients taking more than one serotonergic medication complain of mood changes. Besides, a recent increment in the dosage of a medication does the same as well. On top of that, if you use illegal drugs or herbal products, be careful too!

Yet, don’t stop the drugs without the doctor’s consultation. If you want to know what improves your symptoms, you are on the right page!

Serotonin syndrome is a life-threatening drug reaction due to excessive serotonin levels. It occurs with drugs that raise serotonin combined with an existing antidepressant.

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter that controls mood and behavior. It is a form of a natural brain chemical that transmits signals between your nerve cells.

Did you know that serotonin originates from the essential amino acid tryptophan? This amino acid enters your body through foods rich in nuts, cheese, and also red meat. Besides, tryptophan deficiency can cause reduced serotonin levels. This can result in mood disturbances, like anxiety or depression.

serotonin

Thus, you end up taking antidepressant drugs to treat the disorders. But you could have a dangerous drug reaction if you take pills that boost serotonin levels. Also known as serotonin syndrome. And serotonin syndrome ruined my life!

What Does Serotonin Do?

Serotonin impacts every part of your body. From your emotions to your body movements, it affects almost everything! Serotonin assists with sleeping, eating, and walking. But it also helps:

  • Mood regulation: When serotonin is at a safe level, you feel more attentive, delighted, and calmer. 
  • Protect gut and bowel function: Your stomach can boost serotonin release to speed digestion and remove toxic products.
  • Stimulate nausea: Nausea occurs when serotonin releases into your tummy faster than the digestive process.
  • Induce good sleep: Serotonin and dopamine increase the quality of your sleep.
  • Promote wound healing: Platelets in the blood release serotonin, which helps in clot formation. 
  • Maintain bone health: Serotonin maintains bone health and density to prevent osteoporosis
  • Boost sexual desire: It also plays a role with dopamine in improving your sex desire.

Serotonin Syndrome Ruined My Life

Serotonin syndrome stories are very well-known in the medical field. So what does that depicts? Serotonin syndrome is a life-threatening drug reaction due to excessive serotonin levels. It occurs with drugs that raise serotonin combined with an existing antidepressant.

Most people can take serotonin-affecting drugs without risk when given the proper dosage. Still, anyone who takes illegal drugs and supplements must be aware of this condition. Plus, it happens to individuals of any age.

serotonin-syndrome-ruined-my-life

How long does serotonin syndrome last? The duration varies based on the severity and the patient’s adaptability. Often, you may feel better within three days if you have a mild condition. 

Yet, some cases take up to several weeks to go away. Severe serotonin syndrome can cause demise if not managed well. And that depends on which medication provoked the reaction. Also, consider how long the drug remains in your system.

Drugs That Cause Serotonin Syndrome

Antidepressants are least likely to cause serotonin syndrome among patients. Is that true? In reality, one class of antidepressants is enough to cause serotonin syndrome. Another reason is starting a new antidepressant before stopping the old one.

Little did you know, early reports of serotonin overload occurred in the 1950s itself! It correlates to antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors. When new drugs became prevalent in fighting depression, numbers of serotonin syndrome inflated.

Various classes of antidepressants like Lexapro obstruct the enzyme that breaks down serotonin. It controls the reabsorption of serotonin, allowing more to accumulate in the brain. 

Drugs that work this way are:

  • antiemetics
  • cough and cold syrup
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors
  • opioid pain relievers
  • recreational drugs
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
  • tricyclic antidepressants
  • triptans used for migraine

Long-Term Effects of Serotonin Syndrome

Serotonin syndrome ruined my life! In reality, it can result in a broad range of symptoms due to overstimulation. The symptoms usually arise within several hours of consuming a new drug. Otherwise, it could be due to augmenting the pre-existing dose.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Cold and shivering
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Extreme sweating
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Mood changes
  • Muscle rigidity and spasm
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Vomiting every night

Moreover, severe serotonin syndrome can be life-threatening. The signs are as below:

Besides, chronic serotonin syndrome is an evolving concept in recent times. Patients may present with unique symptoms like body ache, muscle rigidity, and fatigue. 

Though, there are minimal long-term effects of serotonin syndrome. Still, you should be mindful to prevent serotonin syndrome in the future.

How Can You Die From Serotonin Syndrome?

Can you die from serotonin syndrome at home? To be honest, the likelihoods are pretty low. But if medical therapy is not given when serotonin levels reach too high, it can lead to coma and death. 

Furthermore, patients with intentional ingestion usually face more extreme toxicity than accidental exposures. 

How long does serotonin syndrome take to kill you? There isn’t an accurate timeline to explain this. Most of the cases are present within 24 hours. So if it exceeds more than that, the chances of fatality increase. 

This is because the typical problem with serotonin syndrome is misdiagnosis. Thus, it is vital to recognize that the symptoms may progress right away if not treated.

How Do You Fix Serotonin Syndrome?

How do you fix serotonin syndrome? Can you stop serotonin syndrome? Antidote for serotonin syndrome counts on the severity of symptoms. Then, the therapies will vary in complexity.

If your symptoms are moderate, you may need admission to the hospital for at least a day or two. Once your symptoms improve with treatment, you can go home feeling safe! Yet, be ready for intensive care unit admission if the condition is life-threatening.

Otherwise, universal treatments may include:

  • Sedatives to relieve symptoms of delirium, muscle rigidity, and seizure-like motions.
  • Intravenous fluids to restore hydration.
  • Oxygen by face mask to improve saturation levels in the blood.
  • Medications to regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Endotracheal tube for mechanical ventilation and sedation
  • Serotonin-blocking agent as the last choice of pharmacological treatment 

If your case of serotonin syndrome is due to antidepressants, there is only one way. It is to quit the medicine! Still, it may take a few weeks for the drugs to vacate your body and your symptoms to disappear.

But don’t stop your prescription or change the dosage without consulting your doctor. If you have unbearable or worsening symptoms, seek emergency care.

Mild Serotonin Syndrome Treatment at Home

Does serotonin syndrome go away naturally? Most of the time, serotonin syndrome presents in the form of mild cases. Drugs will not leave the body in an acute time frame. It will at least take 24 to 72 hours. So patients must be well-monitored for complications or withdrawal symptoms.

  • Often, doctors will tell the patient to quit drugs causing the high serotonin levels.
  • Then, they suggest supportive care and sedation with benzodiazepines.
  • If your symptoms are stubborn, you may have to take cyproheptadine, too.

FAQs

Question: Is serotonin syndrome permanent damage?

Serotonin syndrome doesn’t cause any problems once the levels reverse to the original. Still, it can result in unconsciousness and death. Moreover, chronic serotonin syndrome due to long-term toxicity may be possible.

Question: Can you recover from serotonin syndrome?

Yes, you can! Sometimes, all you need is to stop the drugs causing elevated serotonin levels. Otherwise, simple treatment and admission to the hospital will result in full recovery.

Question: What is the mortality of serotonin syndrome?

Research shows that the mortality rate of severe serotonin syndrome is between 2% to 12%. Yet, with proper treatment, the chances of dying are below one percent.

Question: How long does it take to recover from serotonin toxicity?

Serotonin syndrome resolves within 24 hours of drug discontinuation and prompt treatment. But drugs with long half-lives or active metabolites may vary in duration. It can take up to weeks to go away altogether. 

Take-Home Messages

Serotonin syndrome ruined my life! Thus, if you are on antidepressants, be mindful of serotonin syndrome. Enlighten yourself on the symptoms of serotonin syndrome. 

Make sure the medical practitioner knows your entire medication history. Also, read the instructions and information sheets that come with your prescriptions. If you see worsening symptoms, reach your healthcare provider right away!

Shaila Amaraj

Shaila Amaraj

Shaila Amaraj is an aspiring doctor who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise; known as a freelance writer from Malaysia. She believes writing isn't a hobby; it's a blessing. Check out her posts in Wholesome Alive and anonymously named blog, "Sleep and Study", where she writes about ideas longer than 280 characters. Curious, creative, not a coffee drinker.

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