Anxiety Is a Surprisingly Common Side Effect of Many Medicines

Feeling anxious? Check your medicine cabinet.

There are millions of reasons why you might be feeling more anxious than usual, from big life changes to small triggers, dehydration to medical conditions — not to mention COVID-19 and the current political upheaval. If you’ve recently started experiencing anxiety that’s disrupting your life, it could also be a side effect of a medicine you take. Many drugs — even those that seemingly have nothing to do with the brain — list anxiety as a possible side effect.

Each drug affects every person differently and can interact with other drugs, supplements, conditions or even food to produce side effects, including symptoms of anxiety. If you think drugs may be causing your anxiety, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about how to manage it or whether it’s time to taper off, switch or stop the medication. Nearly every medicine has an alternative drug that might affect you less. Even better, incorporate exercise and healthy, whole-food eating habits and you may be able to use fewer drugs.

Anxiety as a Side Effect of Medicine

While the list, below, is not exhaustive, it covers some of the main drugs prescribed for common afflictions.

Acne Medicine

Accutane may no longer be on the market, but its generic counterpart, isotretinoin, still is. The drug was linked to a variety of psychiatric side effects, including anxiety. However, having acne can also lead to anxiety.

Antibiotics

“I nicknamed myself Frankenwoman,” one woman wrote for MedShadow, explaining how she suffered from a host of conditions after taking the antibiotic Levaquin. The drug caused dramatic side effects like tendon ruptures, along with psychiatric ones like anxiety. While Levaquin is a particularly powerful antibiotic associated with serious side effects, many antibiotics can interfere with our gut microbiota, which is known to impact our brain function through the gut-brain axis.

B12

It’s important to get enough vitamin B12 in your diet to keep your immune system strong. If food isn’t providing it and you take a B12 supplement, you may experience anxiety.

Bronchodilators

Used to treat asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), some bronchodilators like albuterol can cause nervousness and rapid heart rate.

Caffeinated Medicines

Many drugs that treat pain, migraines and respiratory issues contain caffeine, which increases heart rate and can make you feel anxious. Check the ingredients on your drug’s label. Some examples are Excedrin and Midol Complete.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids can cause mood changes, which may be severe in some patients. See: Prednisone: The Steroid That Can Make You Feel Crazy

Diuretics

Drugs that increase urination can cause dehydration, which may lead to feelings of anxiety. This includes medications designed to reduce swelling and fluid retention, such as furosemide (Lasix) and hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide), as well as drugs used to treat diabetes — canagliflozin (Invokana) and empagliflozin (Jardiance).

Mefloquine (Lariam)

Mefloquine is an antimalarial drug, often prescribed as a prophylaxis before traveling to a place where malaria is endemic. It can cause anxiety and nervousness, among other symptoms. In 2013, The FDA applied a black box warning to its label due to a serious risk of psychiatric and neurological side effects. The FDA updated the information on the label to warn that neurologic side effects may persist or become permanent.

Opioids

A 2020 study in JAMA Psychiatry suggested that opioid use can increase the risk of both anxiety and major depression.

Ritalin

Ritalin and other stimulants that treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can cause anxiety and rapid heartbeat.


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