Are you trying to manage your anxiety and considering taking Wellbutrin?
There is some confusing information out there about Wellbutrin and its side effects and uses, so it’s important to understand whether this medication suits you and your situation.
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Wellbutrin is one brand name for bupropion, a medication typically used to treat mood disorders such as depression and seasonal affective disorder. But Wellbutrin is also used to treat other conditions, such as smoking cessation, ADHD, and anxiety.
Wellbutrin¹ works by blocking the body’s reuptake of the hormones noradrenaline and dopamine, keeping them present and available for longer.
This is important for mood disorder treatment as noradrenaline is associated with feelings of happiness and increased energy levels, while dopamine increases mood, motivation, and excitement.
Wellbutrin is taken orally and comes as either an immediate-release or extended-release tablet. Other bupropion brand names that you might have come across include Aplenzin and Forfivo XL.
While Wellbutrin is typically used in the treatment of depression, research tells us that it can help to reduce anxiety.
One study², in particular, found that bupropion significantly improved anxiety scores in patients. These results were similar to those seen in comparison groups given sertraline (Zoloft), an antidepressant commonly used in the treatment of anxiety.
More recent clinical data has found that bupropion (Wellbutrin) is an appropriate treatment option for depressed patients with comorbid anxiety. This is because bupropion has been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression-related anxiety³. Further studies have also concluded that bupropion can have significant anti-anxiety effects⁴ in patients with clinical depression.
More research evaluating the use of Wellbutrin for specific anxiety disorders (an off-label use) is needed to understand its anxiety-reducing potential.
However, there is a pilot control study⁵ that has shown promise. The study compared the effectiveness of bupropion to escitalopram, an SSRI used to treat depression and anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety disorder. The study found that bupropion demonstrated well-tolerated anxiety-reducing results similar to the anxiety treatment provided by escitalopram.
There is a little confusion about how Wellbutrin can treat anxiety. This is because Wellbutrin has a reputation⁶ for inducing anxiety rather than treating it. So what should you believe?
Yes, Wellbutrin can cause anxiety, but the risk of developing a side effect from Wellbutrin is roughly the same as the risk posed by other antidepressants.
All antidepressants can cause anxiety, with roughly 1 in 10 depressed patients experiencing this side effect. While there is a small risk that Wellbutrin may cause anxiety, it can also be an effective anxiety treatment for others.
Wellbutrin seems to have developed more of a reputation for causing anxiety than other antidepressants, and it is the fourth most frequently prescribed antidepressant. This is surprising considering that the risk of developing further anxiety symptoms is essentially the same with Wellbutrin as with other antidepressants.
Wellbutrin has fewer common side effects than other antidepressants, like weight gain, reduced energy, sexual performance issues, and apathy.
There are quite a few myths about Wellbutrin, so it’s important to know the facts about this medicine and its potential side effects when deciding whether it’s right for you.
Myth: Wellbutrin will cause anxiety, not treat it
While some people may experience anxiety while taking Wellbutrin, the risk is low. On the other hand, most people who take the medication enjoy a significant reduction in their anxiety levels.
Anxiety is a potential side effect in all antidepressants, and there is no increased risk with Wellbutrin compared to other medications.
Myth: Wellbutrin has the highest seizure risk
Another side effect often associated with Wellbutrin is an increased risk of seizures. This antidepressant is often thought to have the highest seizure risk, but studies⁷ have shown this is not the case.
While very rare, other antidepressants, like escitalopram and citalopram, have been shown to have a higher seizure risk.
Myth: Wellbutrin will give you insomnia
Wellbutrin can cause insomnia⁸ as a side effect, and it’s important to understand this when evaluating your treatment options. However, many antidepressants can cause insomnia, and the risk is typically no higher with Wellbutrin than most other antidepressants.
While there are misconceptions about the risks of taking Wellbutrin, it is essential that you understand the potential side effects and how they compare to other antidepressant medications.
So what side effects⁹ can you expect from taking Wellbutrin? Some common side effects include:
Some more rare and serious side effects that could occur:
Disturbances to thought patterns
While these side effects can be serious, they’re pretty uncommon and likely only to affect about 10% of patients.
A significant benefit of Wellbutrin is that it lacks many side effects that often deter people from continuing with their antidepressant medication regime. For example, changes to your sex drive or performance and weight gain are not commonly seen in Wellbutrin use.
If your anxiety has become unmanageable and your doctor has recommended Wellbutrin, there are some other treatment options that you can use in combination with the antidepressant.
Exercise has been shown to have an impressive effect on anxiety levels. Research¹⁰ tells us that people who exercise regularly experience fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression than those who don’t.
Meditation is a great, medication-free option that you could use alongside Wellbutrin to help reduce anxiety. One study¹¹ found that mindfulness meditation significantly reduced anxiety and stress scores in patients.
Aromatherapy doesn’t just make your house smell nice. Studies¹² tell us that aromatherapy can improve stress levels and your overall mood.
Like most medications, it’s important to tell your doctor about any other treatments, vitamins, or supplements you are taking in case they interact with how Wellbutrin affects your body. Creating a written list of all supplements and medications you take is a good way to keep on top of this.
The following are medications that can be dangerous when used alongside Wellbutrin and can increase the risk of side effects.
A group of antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors should not be used with Wellbutrin.
This is because this combination can lead to dangerously high blood pressure levels. Other antidepressants, such as sertraline, imipramine, and venlafaxine, can increase your risk of seizures when used alongside Wellbutrin.
Certain antipsychotic medications can also increase your risk of seizures on Wellbutrin, so be sure to talk to your doctor about the safest way to manage both treatments.
Certain heart medications, like beta-blockers or antiarrhythmics, can result in low blood pressure or impact your heartbeat when used with Wellbutrin.
If you are using heart medication with Wellbutrin, your doctor may want to move to a lower dose of both.
Corticosteroid use with Wellbutrin can also contribute to higher seizure risk. You may require a lower dose if both medications are necessary.
Blood-thinning medication can increase the impact of Wellbutrin when taken together. Because of this, your doctor may need to lower your Wellbutrin dosage if you are also on blood thinners.
Certain HIV medications could reduce the effectiveness of Wellbutrin, meaning your doctor may need to increase your dosage.
Anti-seizure medications can also impact the effectiveness of Wellbutrin. Your doctor may alter your dosage if you take both anti-seizure medications and Wellbutrin.
First and foremost, your doctor will help you decide whether Wellbutrin is the best fit for your situation.
But there are some specific reasons as to why Wellbutrin might be the best option:
If the side effects of other antidepressants are seriously affecting you
Wellbutrin doesn’t come with some of the unpleasant side effects of other antidepressants, which often result in interrupted treatment.
If you also need to quit smoking
One lesser-known benefit of Wellbutrin is its ability to help you quit smoking. Studies¹³ have shown that Wellbutrin can be a safe and effective tool when attempting to quit, so it could help you kill two birds with one stone.
If you suffer from depressive disorders or anxiety
Wellbutrin has been shown to be an effective treatment for depressive disorders, like seasonal affective disorder and major depressive disorder. What’s more, it has shown a lot of promise as a treatment for anxiety.
If you’re interested in long-term treatment
Wellbutrin has an impressive record as a long-term treatment option, with no known problems occurring due to long-term use.
As with any medication, it’s important to understand when you should reach out to your doctor for help or advice, and Wellbutrin is no different.
Before starting Wellbutrin
If your anxiety and/or depression is starting to have a more noticeable impact on your life, then you might want to consider talking to your doctor or psychiatrist about whether an antidepressant such as Wellbutrin can help.
If your anxiety keeps you from taking part in day-to-day activities and leaves you feeling overwhelmed, then it might be time to reach out to a medical professional.
After starting Wellbutrin
Once you have started taking Wellbutrin, you should reach out to your doctor or emergency services if you experience any adverse symptoms, including:
High blood pressure
Increased anxiety or depressive symptoms
Eye pain, swelling, or redness
Also known as bupropion, Wellbutrin has been established as an effective antidepressant demonstrating an impressive ability to reduce anxiety levels.
There are many benefits to Wellbutrin as an anxiety treatment, including its lack of common mood medication symptoms, like weight gain and sexual side effects. While Wellbutrin does come with some risks, this is no different from most other antidepressants.
Bupropion (wellbutrin) | National Alliance on Mental Illness