Epilepsy Talk

Popular Painkillers — Depressing News | April 27, 2011

If you thought you were depressed before, wait till you finish this paragraph. Researchers say popular painkillers could block the effects of antidepressants like Celexa, Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac or Lexapro…

This means YOU or a loved one. Do you take Advil or Motrin or Aleve? Well, the researchers found that people taking these NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) were significantly less likely to get results from their SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) antidepressants.

The key word here is “significantly.” It’s not like Advil turned Prozac totally off.  Plus, a lot more research is needed. But, if I get a pounding headache, I’m personally going to pop an NSAID, because Tylenol is a whole lot scarier.

However, if I had major arthritis plus depression, I’d take this research seriously…

According to a new report published April 25, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the effectiveness of SSRI antidepressants is reduced by 15% when taken alongside anti-inflammatory drugs.

Since inflammation is thought to worsen or cause depression in some people, researchers were justifiably surprised. Because, logically, they expected that combining an anti-inflammatory with an antidepressant would improve, not reduce, depressive symptoms. Makes sense, don’t you think?

But, researcher and co-author of the study Dr. Jennifer Warner-Schmidt said: “It appears there’s a very strong antagonistic relationship between NSAIDs and SSRIs. This may be one reason why the response rate (in patients of SSRIs) is so low.”

What seems to be at work here, is a matter of imbalance. (You know, what works for some doesn’t work for all.)

SSRI antidepressants work by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in our brains.  And by balancing these natural chemicals, they affect our moods and emotions. But it appears that if this delicate balance is upset by a foreign agent — like an anti-inflammatory — all bets are off.  Especially if someone is in chronic pain and uses an anti-inflammatory regularly for relief.

But the resolution remains in question. And more clinical trials will be needed to assess the strength and quality of the anti-inflammatory, together with the treatment and chemical imbalances being addressed by the antidepressant.

Meanwhile, Paul Greengard, the study’s senior author and Vincent Astor Professor of the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience at Rockefeller University, advises, “physicians should consider the advantages and disadvantages of giving an anti-inflammatory with the antidepressant depending on how severe the pain is and how depressed they are.”

That isn’t to say: “Throw away your pain killers!” But it might make you (and me) think twice before popping some more ibuprofen…

At least, it’s certainly worth checking out with your doctor.






  1. Have they considered using something with a Lithium base? Lithium is used to counter act episodes from Bi-Polar/manic depression, a chemical imbalance which creates mood swings.

    Just asking.


    Comment by Mike Farnam — April 27, 2011 @ 6:43 PM

  2. Actually, lithium and anti-depressant classes OTHER THAN SSRIs fare just fine. It’s something about how the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor(SSRI) works to prevent the serotonin from being reabsorbed by the nerve cell that must be the glitch.

    I think it’s probably a blood / brain barrier issue.

    But hey, I’m no doc, you can be sure of that. Although with your creative ideas, you could be in the running!!! 😉


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 27, 2011 @ 11:30 PM

  3. Good timing on this article. I just started Prozac today for depression. I have occas body aches or ha’s. Whats the “scarier” part of tylenol? I often take an Advil and an extrastrength tylenol together instead of two advil.


    Comment by Cindy Fiser — December 22, 2017 @ 9:51 AM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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