If you have been prescribed antidepressants it can be tempting to stop taking them once you start to feel better. Maybe the symptoms that caused you to visit your GP or a psychiatrist – low mood, anxiety, thoughts of self-harm – have eased and you believe you no longer need to take medication. But, this is where problems can arise. 

You might start to experience disturbing thoughts or find it difficult to think. Physical problems may develop, including flu-like or digestive symptoms. Experts call these “discontinuation symptoms” and they are surprisingly common. 

Discontinuation syndrome

Around one in five people who take antidepressants for six weeks or longer may experience discontinuation symptoms if they suddenly stop taking their medication. The reason for this is that antidepressants affect the brain chemical serotonin. Stopping taking the medication results in a sudden drop in serotonin levels which can result in physical and emotional symptoms.

While antidepressants are not addictive or habit-forming and so do not, technically, cause withdrawal symptoms there are, nevertheless, physiological consequences to stopping taking them. For this reason, doctors advise people to reduce their medication gradually rather than stopping suddenly.

It is important to do this under the guidance of a healthcare professional, however, as decreasing the dose too rapidly, as well as too slowly, can result in symptoms. If you experience symptoms within days of stopping your antidepressants you could be suffering from discontinuation syndrome.

Minimising side-effects

Not everyone experiences this, however, and scientists are unclear why some people develop discontinuation syndrome while others do not.

Genetic testing is playing an increasingly important role in helping to minimise unpleasant side effects associated with anti-depressants and in ensuring that people take the right type of medication for their particular genetic make-up.

It could help to identify those people who might be particularly prone to discontinuation syndrome so they can take steps to avoid the problem.

Antidepressants are commonly prescribed for people with depression but not all drugs work for all people. In fact, research suggests that 38% – and possibly as many as 50% – of patients prescribed with anti-depressants will not benefit from the first drug they are treated with.

This leaves people struggling to cope with symptoms and, sometimes, feeling increasingly desperate as the medication fails to provide relief.

For GPs, clinicians and psychiatrists it can be frustrating to have to keep trying different medication until they hit on the right one for the individual patient. 

Pharmacogenomics – how genetics effects antidepressants

Until now, doctors had no alternative to the “trial and error” approach to prescribing antidepressants. However, geneticists discovered that an individual’s genes have an impact on whether or not an antidepressant is effective, how much is a safe dose and even whether it will cause side-effects.

Referred to as personalised medicine, the science of testing a person’s DNA to see which drugs are likely to work most effectively is called Pharmacogenomics.

Genetic testing for depression

Myogenes is highly focused on genetic testing to assist with the treatment of depression.

The Genecept Assay test was developed to help doctors to treat people with mental illness more effectively. It uses a simple cheek swab to analyse a person’s genes and identify which medications will work most effectively and what is the ideal dosage. The test can be used for a wide range of psychiatric conditions including depression, anxiety, PTSD and schizophrenia.

It is only available via your GP or Psychiatrist, as the results need to be properly analysed by a healthcare professional before medication can be prescribed.

Read more about the Genecept Assay test here and contact our team for more information.