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Frequently Asked Questions
about
Venlafaxine (Effexor)

Version 3.3 / 5 June 1994

Prepared by Ivan Goldberg, MD


Index

  1. What is venlafaxine (Effexor)?
  2. How does venlafaxine differ from other antidepressants?
  3. What kinds of depression can be treated with venlafaxine?
  4. Other than depression, what is treated with venlafaxine?
  5. What are the side-effects of venlafaxine?
  6. Which side-effects force people to stop taking venlafaxine?
  7. Are there any special hazards for people with bipolar disorder?
  8. Does venlafaxine interact with other medications?
  9. Does venlafaxine interact with alcohol?
  10. Is venlafaxine safe for a woman who is pregnant, about to become pregnant, or nursing an infant?
  11. Is venlafaxine a satisfactory antidepressant for children and adolescents?
  12. Is venlafaxine a satisfactory antidepressant for the elderly?
  13. How is treatment with venlafaxine initiated?
  14. What is the usual final dose of venlafaxine?
  15. How long does it take venlafaxine to relieve depression?
  16. Are there withdrawal effects if venlafaxine is suddenly discontinued?
  17. Is venlafaxine toxic if an overdose is taken?
  18. What precautions are necessary when switching between venlafaxine and an MAO inhibitor?
  19. What does venlafaxine cost?
  20. Might venlafaxine be effective when a person has not responded to other antidepressants?

  21. Additions and corrections.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is venlafaxine (Effexor)?

    Venlafaxine (Effexor) is a new antidepressant with a novel chemical structure. Venlafaxine has a structure that does not resemble those of any currently used antidepressants. Effexor is not a tricyclic antidepressant or an MAO inhibitor.

  2. How does venlafaxine differ from other antidepressants?

    Venlafaxine seems to have the relative freedom from side-effects associated with the SSRIs [fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), and fluvoxamine (Luvox)] and the impact on both serotonin and norepinephrine associated with the tricyclic antidepressants [amitriptyline (Elavil), imipramine (Tofranil), etc.]. It is hypothesized that the action of the venlafaxine molecule upon both serotonin and norepinephrine will cause venlafaxine to be a successful antidepressant for some people who have not responded to treatment with SSRIs.

    As venlafaxine and its active metabolite have relatively short half-lives, 4 hours and 11 hours respectively, venlafaxine should be administered in divided does, two or three times a day.

  3. What kinds of depression can be treated with venlafaxine?

    While the pre-marketing studies were restricted to patients with a DSM-III-R diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder (with or without melancholia), it is to be expected that venlafaxine will be prescribed for patients with Major Depression, Dysthymia, and Bipolar Disorder.

    While venlafaxine was only studied for periods up to 6 weeks, it is to expected that patients with long-standing depressions will take the drug for longer periods of time.

  4. Other than depression, what is treated with venlafaxine?

    There is accumulating evidence that the symptoms of ADD/ADHD in both children and adults can be treated with venlafaxine. High doses of venlafaxine have also been reported to be effective in the treatment of people with borderline personality disorder.

  5. What are the side-effects of venlafaxine?

    The most common side-effects and the percentage of people reporting them during clinical trials are:

    Side-effect Patients
    Nausea 37%
    Headache 25%
    Sleepiness 23%
    Dry mouth 22%
    Dizziness 19%
    Insomnia 18%
    Constipation 15%
    Nervousness 13%
    Raised blood pressure 13%*
    Fatigue 12%
    Sweating 12%
    Decreased appetite 11%
    Male sexual dysfunction 12%
    Female sexual dysfunction 2%
     
    * While the manufacturer says that hypertension only occurs in patients receiving over 300 mg/day, there have been reports of moderately severe hypertension in patients taking smaller doses.

  6. Which side-effects force people to stop taking venlafaxine?

    In the premarketing studies 19% (537 out of the 2897) of depressed patients taking venlafaxine discontinued the medication because of side-effects. The side-effects and the percentages of total patients who dropped out for each are:

    Side-effect Patients
    Nausea 6%
    Sleepiness 3%
    Insomnia 3%
    Dizziness 3%
    Male sexual dysfunction 3%
    Headache 2%
    Nervousness 2%
    Anxiety 2%
    Dry mouth 2%
    Fatigue 2%
    Sweating 2%
     

  7. Are there any special hazards for people with bipolar disorder?

    As with other antidepressants, people with bipolar disorder who are not being treated with a mood regulator such as lithium, valproate (Depakote), or carbamazepine (Tegretol) may be pushed into a manic episode when treated with venlafaxine.

  8. Does venlafaxine interact with other medications?

    Lithium - No interaction.

    Diazepam (Valium) - No interaction.

    Cimetidine (Tagamet) - Slight increase in blood level of venlafaxine's active metabolite. Not of clinical significance.

    Fluoxetine (Prozac) - Significant increase in the concentration of venlafaxine and its active metabolite. Potential for increased side-effects.

  9. Does venlafaxine interact with alcohol?

    Although venlafaxine has not been found to increase the impairment of cognitive or motor skills caused by alcohol, the manufacturer warns against drinking while taking venlafaxine.

  10. Is venlafaxine safe for a woman who is pregnant, about to become pregnant, or nursing an infant?

    There is no data to establish the safety of venlafaxine for the fetus or nursing infant.

  11. Is venlafaxine a satisfactory antidepressant for children and adolescents?

    Although here have been no published studies on the use of venlafaxine for the treatment of children and adolescents with depression, it is expected that the drug will be prescribed for depressed children and adolescents.

  12. Is venlafaxine a satisfactory antidepressant for the elderly?

    No special problems were encountered when venlafaxine was prescribed for elderly people with depression.

  13. How is treatment with venlafaxine initiated?

    I usually start adults on 25 mg of venlafaxine every 12 hours. Every five days, I usually add 25 mg to each dose until the patient either responds or reaches reaches 150/day. If there is no response within 2 weeks of reaching 150 mg/day the dose is again increased in steps of 25 mg/dose until a total daily dose of 300 mg/day is achieved. If this dose is not effective, and the patient is tolerating the venlafaxine without problems, I then increase the dose to between 500 and 600 mg/day.

    When venlafaxine is given to elderly patients the starting dose is the same as for other adults. As older people may be more sensitive to increases in dose those increases should be made slowly.

  14. What is the usual final dose of venlafaxine?

    While doses up to 375 mg per day are approved by the FDA, some severely depressed patients have been treated with higher doses. Most depressed people respond to doses under 300 mg per day.

  15. How long does it take venlafaxine to relieve depression?

    While most people taking venlafaxine become aware of some lessening of depression within two to four weeks, there are some who experience relief within the first week and others who only experience relief after a couple of months of therapy.

  16. Are there withdrawal effects if venlafaxine is suddenly discontinued?

    Because of its very short half-life, venlafaxine should be discontinued gradually over at least 2 weeks. If venlafaxine is suddenly discontinued, a withdrawal syndrome involving fatigue, nausea, dizziness, headache, insomnia, and nervousness may develop.

  17. Is venlafaxine toxic if an overdose is taken?

    Fourteen overdoses of venlafaxine have been reported. In some cases venlafaxine was taken along with alcohol and/or other medications. All individuals who took an overdose recovered without sequelae.

  18. What precautions are necessary when switching between venlafaxine and an MAO inhibitor?

    When switching from an MAO inhibitor to venlafaxine, there should be a 14-day interval between the discontinuation of the MAOI and the initiation of venlafaxine therapy. When switching from venlafaxine to an MAOI, a 7-day interval is adequate because of venlafaxine's short half-life.

  19. What does venlafaxine cost?

    Venlafaxine is supplied in tablets ranging from 25 to 100 mg in strength. The 25 mg tablets cost pharmacies nearly as much as the 100 mg tablets ($0.71 vs. $0.83). It is expected that all strengths of venlafaxine will be sold for between $1.00 and $1.50 per tablet.

  20. Might venlafaxine be effective when a person has not responded to other antidepressants?

    In patients who have not responded to three antidepressants from at least two of the major classes of antidepressants, venlafaxine was found to be effective in nearly one-half of the people with depression who took it.


Additions and corrections to:
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||-----------------------------------------------------ooOo-( )-oOoo----||
||                          Ivan Goldberg, MD                ~          ||
|| ikg1@columbia.edu                                  psydoc@netcom.com ||
|| V: 212 876 7800  /  1346 Lexington Ave NYC 10128  /  F: 212 737 0473 ||
||               http://avocado.pc.helsinki.fi/~janne/ikg/              ||
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[dr. bob] Dr. Bob is Robert Hsiung, MD, dr-bob@uchicago.edu

Revised: February 20, 2004 (links to PB)
URL: http://www.dr-bob.org/tips/venlafaxine.html