Q. Can you offer me any ideas of how I can ease my withdrawal from Pristiq? My brain is cloudy, I am having brain zaps and I am agitated.

I should have never tried it out. Please help!

A. You must let your physician know what is going on. DO NOT stop this antidepressant suddenly. The withdrawal symptoms can be devastating.

Here are some stories to consider:

“I was prescribed Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) four years ago [this drug is somewhat similar to Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine) in that it works the same way] when Lexapro lost its effectiveness. Pristiq seemed to have no obvious side effects unless I forgot to take it in the morning. By afternoon, I would be experiencing brain zaps and hearing my eyes move. I would see “trails” when moving my eyes. This would go away within hours of taking the missed dose. I then tried to stop the drug myself, because I didn’t want to be on something that has that effect.

“I tried weaning off myself by taking a full dose (100 mg) then 75 mg the next day and alternating for 2 weeks then go down to 75/75. I went crazy after two weeks and had to go back to the original dose. Not only did I have severe suicidal thoughts every 5 minutes, but uncontrolled crying, extreme sluggishness, night sweats (when I could sleep), weight gain, irritability and mood swings. Physically, my blood pressure (which has ALWAYS been 110/78) jumped to 149/101.

“After two weeks of getting back on the drug, all symptoms (including high blood pressure) normalized. I am now under a doctor’s care to switch back to Lexapro (which she says will work again since I have given the drug a rest). She is having me take a full dose of Pristiq one day and then full dose of Lexapro the next day for a week. Then in 2nd week, Pristiq 1 day, then 2 days of Lexapro. She supplemented with Abilify daily. So far, the withdrawal symptoms have been manageable and I am in my 2nd week. I have added weekly acupuncture for the mood swings and am hopeful that I will have my life back.”–A. H.


“I was put on Pristiq almost a year ago. I got tired of taking this drug and I slowly started weaning myself off of the pills for about a month. As I’m typing this message my brain is shivering and zapping like nobody’s business. When I tried to explain it to my doctor he acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. In the meantime, I suffer like crazy.”–Oscar


“I am coming off Pristiq right now. Was on 100 mg a day and my doctor pulled me off it cold turkey. I’ve only taken it for about 2 months, but I feel like I’m going crazy. I have the brain zaps so bad I can barely walk around my house. I’m terrified to drive. This is worse than anything I’ve ever been through, and that includes quitting smoking.”–Laurel


“I have been on a variety of antidepressants over the past few years for depression and anxiety. My latest prescription is Pristiq 50 mg once a day. I have been on it for 6 months. At first, I did see a difference in my depression and anxiety, but things began to change in the 7th month. I started having side effects from Pristiq. I haven’t had a brain freeze yet, but I have had other symptoms.

“I have had insomnia, headaches, GI upset, elevated cholesterol, blood pressure changes, joint/muscle pain, abnormal swelling all over, fatigue, agitation and ears ringing. From what I have read this is a hard medication to get off. I didn’t realize that this medication was making me sick until I went online and started to look up my symptoms. I really don’t know if I want to continue to take antidepressants if they are going to make me more physically sick.”–Julie


PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE:

No one should ever discontinue antidepressant medication without medical supervision. As described above in vivid detail, the withdrawal symptoms can be terrible. We are especially concerned now that we see Cymbalta (duloxetine) advertised for arthritis symptoms. We wonder whether physicians are warning patients that getting off such drugs can be challenging (to say the least).

Here are some side effects to be aware of with Pristiq and Cymbalta:

CYMBALTA (DULOXETINE) & PRISTIQ (DESVENLAFAXINE) SIDE EFFECTS:

  • Nausea, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, decreased appetite, vomiting
  • Dizziness, fatigue, sleepiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Insomnia, anxiety, jitteriness, irritability, tremor
, weird dreams
  • Sweating, hot flashes
  • Blurred vision
, glaucoma
  • Headache
, ringing in ears
  • Sexual dysfunction, lowered libido, erection difficulties, lack of orgasm
, abnormal ejaculation
  • Liver damage
  • Serious skin reactions, rash, hives (requires immediate MD assistance!)
  • Glaucoma
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Bleeding problems
  • Blood pressure problems
  • Interaction with other drugs (leading to serotonin syndrome among other reactions)
  • Pneumonia
  • Seizures
  • Depressed mood, suicidal thoughts and behavior, suicide

Some people never experience such side effects and achieve substantial benefit from medications like desvenlafaxine, duloxetine and venlafaxine. But others find the problems with such drugs overwhelming. The sexual side effects alone can be disconcerting. They are also quite common. You can imagine that dizziness, dry mouth, lack of orgasm and excessive sweating might be enough to drive a person to want to stop such medication. But as you will see below, that can trigger a whole other set of problems.

Doctors have taken to calling this “discontinuation syndrome.” These clinical words do not do justice to what it is like to stop antidepressants like Cymbalta, Effexor (venlafaxine), Paxil (paroxetine), Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) or Zoloft (sertraline) suddenly.

SUDDEN WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS:

  • Brain “zaps” (electric shock-like senstations in the brain)
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, vertigo, feeling faint
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety, irritability, hostility
  • Nausea, diarrhea, digestive upset
  • Tremor, hands shaking, nerve tingles, strange sensations
  • Fatigue, tiredness, lack of energy
  • Visual disturbances

So, what is a person to do once started on the antidepressant merry-go-round? Sadly, doctors do not have clear guidelines about how to help patients stop such drugs. There is no clear-cut formula that will work for everyone. Patience is essential, though. This is NOT a do-it-yourself project. You will need help from a knowledgeable health professional. And you will need to take time. For some, a few weeks may be adequate to gradually phase off the drug. For others, it may take many months of very slow dosage reduction.

We offer our Guide to Dealing with Depression. It provides some additional insights into both side effects and withdrawal. It also discusses some other ways of coping with depression. Whatever you do, you will need great support from a health professional who understands the complexity of such medications.

You are also invited to share your experience with these drugs below.

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  1. Karen
    Texas
    Reply

    Wow!!! Went to the doctor today and was prescribed Pristiq. I have slept all day and feel really fuzzy headed!! I want to thank all of you for reporting your withdrawal experiences…it has helped me to realize I do not want to be on this drug.

  2. Fran
    Reply

    A well-loved relative committed suicide, last week, and none of us can understand how. He had recently experienced some job-related stress, but NOTHING in his prior character EVER indicated he was capable of this. We are in complete shock, and looking for clues to understand.

    I was just informed he had been taking this drug for the last 4 – 6 weeks of his life. I don’t know (yet), whether he took the drug consistently, or if he missed some doses (or possibly tried to stop “cold-turkey”). Regardless, we are heartbroken over the loss, and trying to understand what went wrong.

    As I said, he’d experienced some recent stress/changes at work that made for a negative/unhappy environment, but prior to that, had loved his job for many years (and was well-loved/respected by those he served). We do not know (yet), how he was handling this drug, but I certainly hope it didn’t play a part in his sudden, shocking suicide. My heart is breaking.

  3. marion
    Toronto, ON
    Reply

    I took pristine for about two months and couldn’t handle the anxiety it caused. I decided to go off it and am tapering off it gradually. Have no appetite, vivid unsettling dreams, horrible depression; crying all the time, heart palpitations and increased anxiety. Will try exercise to see how it helps.

  4. Andrea
    Miami
    Reply

    Hi! I started Pristiq 50 mg almost 2 months ago. My Doc told me to start with 100 mg 15 days ago because I wasn’t really feeling anything. After reading online how difficult it is to leave it, I decided to stop taking the pill. So the first 2 days were actually amazing. I felt alive again (except for the terrible insomnia I got the first night). But today (day 3)… It felt like the worst hang over ever. I had all of the symptoms you guys mention here: nausea, extreme dizziness, fatigue, sweating, hot flashes, of course anxiety and palpitations. My joints and neck hurt like crazy… But I’m actually starting to feel OK now (10:30 pm). I’m afraid tomorrow will be a crapy day too. Have any of you actually felt better and then like crap again?? Or am I the luckiest girl on earth and my withdrawal symptoms only lasted 12 hours? Thank you all for sharing your experiences, it sure has made it easier for me to cope with the symptoms!

  5. Chill Guy
    Reply

    I’m currently in about week one of experiencing the withdrawals from 100mg dose of pristiq. Have been taking for a year, the last week or two I’ve been skipping a day or two and then 3 or so then down to now having not had one for a week.

    I can feel the ‘brain zaps’ that are mentioned by many here and I certainly feel a little bit odd. I can tell there is definitely something up with ALL of my emotions so I’m being especially conscious about what I think and do at the moment. I was watching Adventure Time before and after a small joke on the show made me chuckle I felt like I was so happy I was going to start crying, very odd feeling.

    My management for withdrawal has been a little unorthodox but so far so good. I smoke weed. It helped with the symptoms that pristiq gave me when I took it anyway but now has been great for managing the shit I feel now. The first few nights I had horrible fitful sleep and sweated a lot but now I’m just feeling a bit high strung and get the brain zaps. Few more weeks and I’ll be fine. My doctor should have prescribed me weed to start with, amazing plant and had the most profoundly positive effect on my life and overall world view.

    I will say that Pristiq did indeed serve its purpose but they are horrible horrible drugs and I wish I had discovered weed first. I only started smoking weed cos it helped with the erection problems Pristiq caused.

  6. Kel
    Australia
    Reply

    I have been on pristiq now for 16 months. I was originally on Zoloft (a cheaper brand) but all of a sudden my body reacted very badly and I had a panic attack like no other. My doc put me on pristiq and it worked wonders, however the past 12 months have been a slow decline with more and more side affects developing. If I’m an hour or so late taking it my mind feels fried, I can’t move around quickly as I get dizzy, if I think about different things at once my brain hurts, I have zapping, migraines, itchiness and to top it off my hair has started falling out. I have also increased my weight by 10kgs. I have forgotten to take my tablet as I left it in my car which my husband has for work lucky I remembered I have a spare one which I keep in my handbag in case of a situation such as this but a day overdue. I have had to go to bed as I’m so ill. I will be speaking to my doctor and will stop taking this under his guidance.

    • Sarah
      Australia
      Reply

      Wow , I’m so happy to hear this story, I’ve been easing off pristiqu for about a month, one 50mg every second day, my doc has now said to stop altogether, but has given me mild sleeping tabs, I feel very sore all over and tired but apart from that all good. Hope it stay this way, feeling positive.
      Many thanks

  7. Adria
    Gilbert, AZ
    Reply

    I’ve been on Pristiq 50mg for approximately 9-11 months. I noticed that it helped, initially, with depression (I had my fifth miscarriage in Nov. 2012. I went on Celexa to help me through that only to change to Pristiq. In September 2014, I had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy making it the sixth pregnancy loss).

    In the past five months, I feel as though the medication had stopped working and I’m ready to come off of it. I forgot to fill my prescription in February and missed three days and it was absolute torture. The brain zaps, nausea, vomiting, migraine headaches, chills and hot flashes, sweating, etc. ended up putting me on the couch for a good five or six days. My moods were up and down and I was crying at the drop of a hat and yelling at the most trivial things that my son or husband did. My husband immediately went to get my rx from the pharmacy and after taking the pill, I noticed in the next couple of days I was feeling better.

    Flash forward to now and I am very passionate about getting off of this medication. I’ve discussed with my counselor that I feel as though I don’t know how my body really feels sans drugs. She agreed that the more medication that I’m on, the further away from my REAL baseline I am. I want to get back to that baseline and then re-evaluate what I need in order to feel my best.

    I have had a sinus infection since Tuesday, June 9th and today is Sunday, June 14. I am on day four without Pristiq and I have been doing much better than I did in February when I didn’t get my prescription filled in time and missed three days. I’m not sure if it is because I’ve been preparing myself or not but I’ll take it. I have seen three different doctors (my GP, a psychiatrist and a psychiatric nurse) and all three have said that because I am already on the lowest dose, I can only go off by going cold turkey. The DNP prescribed clonazepam to help me get through the withdrawals. I took two yesterday and I just took another one.

    Here are my symptoms throughout the last four days. Remember that I am also dealing with a sinus infection so the symptoms may be overlapping.
    Day 1- Feeling ok. Slept ok.
    Day 2- sluggish, fatigued, dizzy, trouble balancing (falling or tripping often), crying at almost anything, very emotional. Slept ok.
    Day 3- Vision starting to change. Eyes having trouble focusing, Feeling of vertigo. VERY tired and fatigued. Cold sweats and hot flashes. Lots of sweating. Fever. No appetite. Slept ok.
    Day 4- Sluggish, very tired and fatigued. Felt fine until about an hour ago. Starting to feel weird in body. Having weird shakes and trembling. Hands are hot and sweaty, feet cold. Extremely hot right now. Diarrhea, nausea, close to vomiting, dizziness, headache (feels like someone is squeezing my head as hard as they can), no appetite, panicky feeling, having trouble swallowing as I keep feeling like I’m going to vomit.

    I sure hope this is the worst of the worst. And, I hope these next few days go fast. I’ve got a lot scheduled for this coming week and I’ve got to keep my five year old son busy. Crossing my fingers tomorrow is a better day.

    My thoughts on Pristiq? Never again will I go on an AD. I will try to heal from diet and lifestyle and counseling. This is NOT worth it. I was never suicidal and I’m not currently but the pain that this withdrawal is causing is not worth it. If anyone asked me if I would recommend Pristiq, I would say NEVER. If anyone asked me what I would recommend instead, I would say, eat whole, clean foods and get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. This chemical is the pits!

  8. Lauren
    Perth, WA
    Reply

    I was put on 50mg Pristiq about 8 months ago, my dose was increased to 100mg 4 months ago. At first, it saved my life. I was depressed and suicidal and it began to make a difference. However about a week ago, I decided that I wanted to stop taking it. I lasted 3 days with brain zaps and feeling jittery – I felt unbelievably scattered and off. I also felt increasingly suicidal. It was.. to me.. worse than some of the downest times I have felt.

    I am very upset that my doctor didn’t tell me how hard it would be to stop this medication.. I think it is something that everyone should be informed about.

    Within 2 hours of taking it, I calmed down and all of my intense side effects stopped.
    I am increasingly worried about how to get off it. Ahh!

  9. STACEY
    MS
    Reply

    I have been on different antidepressants for years. I have been taking a wellbutrin in the morning and pristiq at night. Been on this combo for several years. I have tried weaning off each drug, making it past withdrawal symptoms, but realizing something wasn’t right. We tried other drugs, but none have the effect on me these two have. I ran out of pristiq, and I was having money issues so I didn’t fill right away. Then I decided to not refill it. Didn’t realize the withdrawal effects I was having until last night. It has been a nightmare for everyone around me. I need this medication. Started back today. Do not stop cold turkey. Big lesson learned!

  10. Linda
    Fresno, CA
    Reply

    I wish I had never started taking anti-depressants and I am outraged because I believe it is a money making scheme that uses the American people as human guinea pigs. They won’t prescribe narcotics or tranquilizers because they are “addicting” but then they get you hooked on this expensive, dangerous garbage that you CANNOT get off of. Isn’t THAT addictive? I started with Paxil and overnight it changed me into a normal, happy person. It worked great for 2 years and then it didn’t work anymore. Since then I have been through a series of toxic chemicals that only make my symptoms worse. Latest is Pristiq after having a DNA test which said it was “good” for me. Nightmares, rage, etc. Bottom line-If everyone in the USA has it, it is not a chemical imbalance but a sign that something is wrong with our society.

    • Adria
      Gilbert, AZ
      Reply

      I totally agree that most of us are guinea pigs in this experimentation of prescription drugs. I am so pissed that I was put on Pristiq. The withdrawals are disheartening and painful to say the least. I am, however, feeling happier the more I’m not on it. I’m only four days without but, aside from the physical side effects, I feel much better. Can’t wait to get this out of my body. Good luck finding what is best for you!

  11. Ellie
    Rocky mountians
    Reply

    Hello, I am desperately trying to wean off my 50 mg a day of pristiq that I have been on 5 years. The side effects are awful. I am now taking one every two days, then I guess next week I will take two in a week, then one, then none. Any better way? Please? I cannot be under a doctor to do this as I have no insurance, which is why I am getting off this $270 a month medication. I sure could go for advice. I am nauseated, more anti social than usual, and feeling pretty bad overall. Thanks, Ellie

    • Matt
      Melbourne, Australia
      Reply

      Hi Ellie, I just read your post, I had been on Pristiq for 2 years and came off them nearly four weeks ago. There are differing ideas about how to come off the drug – I did what you are doing, by increasing the time span between tablets, and I have had dizziness, “brain zaps” and really low mood. The dizziness and brain zaps are gradually fading, but I am still really emotionally very up and down, and I’m really angry my doctor didn’t tell me how hard it is to get off these. What helps my mood is exercise, even just in short bursts when I can, longer fast walk/runs and swimming followed by a sauna – the heat seems to really help. It is really hard to work up the motivation to do this but it pays off, keeps me able to function. Studies are showing that the right exercise is at least as effective as antidepressants, and when you’re coming off them I think do as much as you can to kick in the endorphins and re-activate the production of saratonin etc in the brain. And going to sites like this where you can see that many others are going through similar difficulties and helping each other – i find it helps. All the best and I hope you start feeling better soon.

    • John
      Alberta
      Reply

      Hi guys: Like most that have posted I been on Pristique for just over two years due to a head injury. Over the last two months I have tired twice to wean off it. In first things were going fine up to week two when I started lowering the frequency of taking it. I got very low and very emotional which were symptoms from my head injury. This caused me to be even more anxious as I thought I would never be off of it. Not knowing any better I restarted taking it again. Just in the last few weeks I started again to wean and like the previous time I hit the wall and could not stop crying for a full day. I thought I was loosing my mind. No where was I instructed of these side effects. After reading other posts I feel better in knowing that I am not alone, nor am I going crazy (well maybe a little). I like the post that talks about the exercise and heat this has been very helpful. Unfortunately for me my vision has gotten to the point where I am looking through marbles. Hopefully this will resolve itself soon..

  12. Milton
    PR
    Reply

    This has been by far the best med for my conditions. Cymbalta the worst. I do have a couple of side effects listed here and will try to ween myself off it. Been using it for 3 years.

  13. Jared
    Brisbane
    Reply

    I started on 50mg for 2 months, then 100mg for 3 then up to 150mg for 6 months. After the initial week of taking Pristiq, I felt no actual change, hence why it was increased. After seeking out a Psychologist, I started dropping back the dose for 5-6 weeks at a time, to use up the boxes I had. The only withdrawal effect I have is headaches, but I am actually happy, more coherent and less anxious then while on the drug. Talk to a psychologist, and your family/spouse.

  14. Amy
    Canada
    Reply

    Hi everyone

    I was on the 100 mg for pristiq for a couple of years but got switched to a different anti-depressant. I also have high blood pressure and I have found since going off the pristiq my heart is just pounding out of my chest. I feel the throbbing throughout my neck too and it has been happening all day. When checking with the pharmacy, that is my body reacting to the withdrawal from the pristiq. Is anyone else having this or has experienced increased heart rate? I’m scared.

  15. Linda
    Toronto
    Reply

    I have been on Pristiq for almost a year. Finally I am being weaned off. I have been on 100mg. This drug honestly saved my life. It made a significant difference with my depression and anxiety. The only symptoms I’ve had are; hot flashes, change in appetite, and a few sleepless nights. For me, it was a small price to pay for the depth of my depression.

  16. Sara
    Michigan
    Reply

    Has anyone else had the lovely side effect of being itchy from the top of your head to the soles of your feet and everywhere in between? I stopped Pristiq fully about five days ago after weaning off for a week and now I am chilled all the time, have a very hard time sleeping, but it’s this itching that is blowing my mind. I haven’t found mention of it in any other site but it’s awful. Nothing helps and I am scratching my body raw. Am I alone in experiencing this? I have not had a single brain zap but my vision is weird now – like my eyes want to keep crossing on me – and I have lost my appetite completely. If you are also experiencing the severe itching response to stopping the drug, please let me know I am not alone and losing my mind over this.

    • Kristen
      United States
      Reply

      Yes, I am tapering to 50mg every other day and have bad itching of my hands, arms, and feet, but other places as well. You aren’t crazy! Plus, I keep getting cold like you. I felt very tired a lot of the time, can be irritable, depressed feeling, and have that weird feeling of depersonalization. This sucks!

    • Abby
      Vancouver, bc
      Reply

      Hi Sara, I been off pristiq for three days now and YES, I’m experiencing same withdrawal symptoms! All you can do is drink a lot of water and wipe ice cube on itchy area that will get rid of itchiness. Stay strong don’t give up.
      Abby

    • Adria
      Gilbert, AZ
      Reply

      I have the vision issues going on. My eyes want to cross. No itching though. Have you asked your doctor about it?

    • David
      Australia
      Reply

      Yes. The itching. I have been off the Pristiq (50mg) for 20 days now and the itching has just started. It is driving me crazy as well. Hopefully it will only last a week or so. I had stomach problems going off Pristiq, Irritability and light headedness to start with. That seems to have passed. Now its itching. I think its just your brain adjusting and hopefully this too shall pass. Try putting Pinetarsol Bath Oil in your bath and have a good soak in the tub. This seems to help. Good luck.

  17. Deborah
    Spring Hill, TN
    Reply

    I went to my doctor to explain the side effects I am having while taking the medication prescribed to me for depression. I was made to look as if I was ignorant and had no idea as to what I was talking about. My doctor prescribed a strong dose stating this should help. He was wrong. I was ignorant but it because of the side effects I was feeling and having a hard time explaining but for listening to my physician. When I finally stated I want off all the medications prescribed my doctor stated which one do I want to quit and when did I want to come back? I was shocked at the way my doctor was acting but I told him I guess I would start with pristiq 50mg because it was the most recent prescribed. I asked how do I stop? It was explained to me that I am on the lowest dosage and stopping should not be a problem. I’ve been off the medication for four days now and feel as if I am going to go crazy. Someone on this site stated brain zaps which helped me explain and articulate what I am feeling now. I feel anxious , suck to my stomach, dizzy, I can’t focus my eyes very well, I keep crying , I can’t sleep, and many more side effects a list too long to write. How are physicians allowed to prescribe medications and not know what the side effects might be? How are they allowed to prescribe a drug with such strong side effects? I am a 52 year old woman who doesn’t drink and thought I didn’t so drugs … Until now, I am in miserere . I don’t know what to do. I am on Monday morning going to call the FDA and report the Adverse reactions I am having with this medication. I hope all the other people on this site go the same. I am so scared because after I get done withdrawing from this medication I have to start the process of getting off the Buproprion I am taking! This is not fair that another human being ( physician) can do this to another human being!

  18. Ryan
    Calgary
    Reply

    I have been taking the meds for a little over a year and a half. I was suffering horribly from anxiety and depression. The meds worked wonderfully for me, but it’s time to move on as I don’t think it’s wise for ANYBODY to depend on meds for their entire life.

    I have run out of pills and it’s only been two days and it’s been hell, thus far. I am going to my doctor in 3 days and I am going to ask for his help weaning off. I would highly recommend against anyone stopping cold turkey as I have tried. The headaches, dizziness, nausea, brain zaps, blurred vision, have been unbearable. Hopefully weaning off them will be easier. Good luck to all trying to get off this stuff, it’s not easy.

    • Deborah
      Reply

      Ryan , I am going through the exact same thing as you are going through. I will keep you in my thoughts. But would like to also recommend your medication side effects be reported to the FDA

    • Kristen
      Reply

      Buproprion (Wellbutrin) doesn’t come close to having horrible withdrawal like Pristiq. At least, that was my experience.

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