Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Side Effects of Medication

What's interesting about blogging is that I finally realized I have no idea which posts will resonate with readers. Actually, gaining weight was a huge issue for me so I thought yesterday's post would be popular but there were no comments. Still, because the side effects of medications have been so personally distressing, I'm going to continue writing about them this week.

Over the last 14 years, four different psychiatrists prescribed 25 different medications in different combinations and different dosages, including Abilify, Adderall, Ativan, Buspar, Celexa, Concerta, Cymbalta, Depakote, Effexor, Geodon, Klonopin, Lamictal, Lexapro, Lithium, Neurontin, Parnate, Prozac, Seroquel, Strattera, Tegretol, Topamax, Trileptal, Wellbutrin, Zoloft, and Zyprexa.

And I experienced the attendant side effects, including anxiety, blurred vision, confusion, cognitive memory loss, constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth, hair loss, exaggerated response to stress, hand tremors, headaches, insomnia, irritability, a severe rash, shortness of breath, slowed mental functioning, slurred speech, weight gain, and so much more.

Actually, at one time, I listed all the side effects and it was at least twenty lines (or more), I can't remember. In my new book, I have my Top 10 List of Side Effects, kind of like a David Letterman list. Without giving away too much, hair loss ranked number one, cognitive memory loss was two, and weight gain was three.

Now...if we're being honest, obviously cognitive memory loss should have been first. For those of you who are lucky enough not to have experienced it, it's unbelievably terrible. Not only do you forget words--you forget paragraphs. I'd be talking to someone and have no idea what I'd said. And it's not like you can minimize the impact of this by saying, "Uh, excuse me, I just forgot the last four minutes of our conversation."

But as awful as that was, for me, losing my hair was far worse. As you can see by my photo, I've worn the same hair style for 40 years. If you're interested in a brief history of the "bob," it became popular in the twenties, and resurged in the 1960s. With very few exceptions, I've worn my hair like this forever. I actually think it may have something to do with this illness (not the haircut itself but my dislike of changing my physical appearance). However, at the risk of sounding like a true "nut case," I'll keep my opinions on this to myself (although I'm willing to expound on it should there be a groundswell of interest).

To make a long story short, when Wellbutrin caused my hair to fall out, I was devastated. Each day for more than 30 years, I looked into the mirror and saw the same face. It takes me three to five minutes to blow-dry my hair and it looks perfect. But once I lost almost a third of my hair, it became curly, frizzly, and would accommodate no style.

Years ago, doctors had no idea that a high dosage of Wellbutrin caused hair loss. So when I told my psychiatrist about it, he said, "Well I've never had a client lose hair on Wellbutrin." Actually, that was his answer to a lot of my reactions to medication. And you can imagine how annoyed I felt. I was sure that I couldn't be the only person in the universe who had these responses. The Internet was at its infancy so I couldn't find out what was going on with other people. All I knew was that I not only felt lousy but I looked messy.

(to be continued)


Polly said...

I personally have nothing to say about weight gain from meds because they've never made me gain weight. I know I'm very lucky in that respect. My least favourite side effect (not counting the Effexor throwing me into rapid cycling/mixed states) so far has been the constant extreme exhaustion that came with antipsychotics and Topamax. I'm not really having problems with my Epival, but it *is* making me lose more hair than usual. I have a lot of hair, and it's not as if 1/3 of it is falling out, so it's not really a problem but is still disconcerting.

ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

My least favourite meds in terms of side-effects have to have been CYmbalta (the withdrawal from it was sheer hell) and Topamax...the latter for everything from numbness in my face and extremities to cognitive deficits. Right now I'm on Abilify and Zoloft...Abilify has been a godsend for me, but it also gave me 15 additional pounds. :-(

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

It's really unbelievable how different medication works for different people. Not only didn't Abilify work for me, but it produced a severe shortness of breath episode that lasted for days (and I was taking the lowest dosage).

Years ago I read a thread where someone called Topomax, Stupidmax, because it did such odd things to her brain.

I tried Cymbalta and it also made me sick. But I'd read online from another thread on Dr.Bob that the recommended dosage was way to high for most people. One guy suggested opening the capsules and counting the beads inside to get the right dosage.

And that doesn't even account for the side effects!

Polly said...

Years ago I read a thread where someone called Topomax, Stupidmax, because it did such odd things to her brain.

I generally call it Dope-a-max. ;-)

Thankful said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences with everyone. I've recently experienced a case where a lady had straight hair that for some reason whent curly. I've been surfing the net all day to try and find some kind of explanation and I came across your words. It was wonderful to hear that this was something that's happened before. I hope more people will read this and let me know if it has happened to them and what medication they where on.
Be strong and once again thank you.

Anonymous said...

I just saw my psychiatrist today and told her I was convinced that the Wellbutrin XL I've been on for 5 months is making all my hair fall out. She said she's never heard of that before and had no patients who have had it happen. I feel like I'm being branded as crazy all over again...

She switched me to Cymbalta, but I'm afraid that it may have the same problem and I'll end up bald! I'd rather be depressed and curled up in the fetal position if it means I have my hair.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Anonymous,
In my experience psychiatrists always say that they never had a patient experience "those" side effects before--no matter what you say.

You can check on Dr. Bob's psychobabble (he's listed in my bipolar side bar) whether anyone else has experienced it before. I took a very low dosage of Cymbalta and didn't have a hair loss problem, although the medication made me sick (which isn't to say that it won't work for you).

Just know that I have great empathy for you and agree that I'd rather be depressed than bald!


mwmw2k said...

Dear Thankful,

I may be a few months too late for you to see this, but I also was searching the internet for curly hair as a side effect of medication and found this website. I have mild OCD and was diagnosed with bipolar in late June 2007 after my first (and only, I hope!) manic episode. I have taken various medications since then. My hair didn't start getting curly until a couple of months ago, but has gotten very curly since then. Right now I am taking lithium, prozac (for OCD), lamictal, adderall and zanax (as needed). I just eat pills for breakfast (not really!). I have read that lithium can change the texture of your hair, but I also read that it normally goes from curly to straight. I asked my Dr. about this curly hair on my head and guess what he said...... "I've never heard of that happening before." In early 2002 I was prescribed Prozac for OCD and (what was thought to be) major depression. I vaguely remember my hair getting a little curlier, but(in hindsight) I was hypomanic (from Prozac). Life was perfect, so it was no big deal and I don't remember the details. I also don't remember it being this curly in any pictures from that time period. After my bipolar diagnosis, my Dr. tried a few other antidepressants before Prozac, b/c of the risk of mania. He has gradually increased my dose to 60 mg since then and it seems that my hair has gradually gotten curlier. I would be interested to hear which medications the lady that Thankful describes is/was taking. Maybe it is the interaction between two or more of these medications??

By the way, I have a question regarding therapy. I have read and believe that medication alone is not enough to effectively treat BP. I have been seeing a LCSW/RN for talk therapy every other week. It definately can't hurt, but I don't feel like it does any more for me than chatting with my family or a good friend. It provides temporary relief, but doesn't seem to provide "permanent" improvement. Plus it costs considerably more. I have recently read more about CBT and it sounds beneficial. I like my Dr., but he is mainly a pill pusher and has not provided much advice regarding effective types of therapy. Any and all advice is appreciated. Thank you!

The End

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear MWMW2K,
I just opened your post and unfortunately am experiencing a terrible depressive episode right now so I can't respond. But I'm reproducing it in the body of today's post and hopefully someone else will respond. Good luck.


Noelle said...

I was also searching for side effects relating to curly hair - my son's hair had a few curls his first year of life, but has been straight.... He is on lithium for the last few months and his hair has become really curly! (He just turned 6yo) I wondered if it was a SE..... He is also on abilify...... We are currently changing from lithium to depakote - I will update if it changes again - looks like it may stay curly or fall out! Hoping for the former!! Thanks all for sharing - nothing in the literature - need to go to people who actually experience these meds/SE's for the REAL story!
OP, I hope your depressive episode lifts soon.......

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Noelle,
So sorry to hear about your son. In terms of my hair falling out, it wasn't clumps, it just came off in my brush or when I shampooed my hair. And the dosage I was taking--which I can't really remember because it was so long ago--was far more than they prescribe now.

I've read that some people take vitamins to counterbalance the effect, but since I didn't, I don't know much about it.

I'm sorry and I don't know anything about bipolar disorder among children, but I thought there are a few books on the subject, and maybe a website for parents.

Good luck with finding information. My heart goes out to you and your son!