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Wellbutrin (bupropion) is an atypical antidepressant that can be effective in alleviating the symptoms of major depressive disorder. What do you need to know about the dosage and side effects?

Have you just been prescribed bupropion or any of its brand names — like Wellbutrin — to help you combat the symptoms of major depressive disorder? While your doctor should fully inform you of everything you need to know about your new antidepressant, you may have been overwhelmed at the appointment and want to know a little more. We aim to please.

What is Wellbutrin?

Bupropion, the generic name of this medication, is also sold under the brand names Wellbutrin, Aplenzin, Chantix, and Forfivo, among others. Whatever it's called, this drug is an antidepressant that can also be used as a drug to help people quit smoking — and is prescribed to treat bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and several other conditions too.

Unlike others, however, it doesn't belong to a wider class of antidepressant medications, so is considered an atypical antidepressant. Like other antidepressants, it works by regulating brain chemistry, concretely by increasing your levels of certain neurotransmitters or "chemical messengers" — in this case norepinephrine and dopamine. 

Wellbutrin has been used for over two decades now, and research has found it to be a safe and effective antidepressant. It may be prescribed on its own or in combination with another antidepressant, and is especially likely to be prescribed to people who have experienced weight gain or sexual dysfunction as side effects of other antidepressant medications.

If my doctor prescribes Wellbutrin, what dose will I be taking?

Bupropion can be taken in several different ways, as there are two versions — regular and longer-acting tablets. Depending on which tablet you are taking and why, you will take the medication two, three, or four times a day. Only the extended-release version is taken once a day. Either way, taken the tablets with food means you are less likely to get an upset stomach from them, and the longer-acting versions should never be crushed or chewed but rather swallowed whole. 

Wellbutrin is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, and they recommend a starting dose of 100 mg twice a day — so 200 mg in total. The maximum recommended dose is 450 mg a day, but if the lower starting dosage isn't working well enough to alleviate your depression symptoms, it should be increased gradually over a period of time rather than all at once. 

If you have liver or kidney disease, you may still be able to take Wellbutrin, but your healthcare provider will be looking to put you on a lower dose. 

Never take more than the prescribed dose, and take your Wellbutrin exactly as instructed. Overdoses are possible and can be dangerous — see below.

What are the side effects of Wellbutrin?

As with many other medications, Wellbutrin, the generic version bupropion, and all the other brand names under which this antidepressant can appear, has some potential side effects. They include drowsiness, insomnia, headache, dizziness, a dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, an upset stomach, and constipation — side effects that can come with pretty much any antidepressant. Weight loss (rather than gain, as with some), shaking, anxiety or excitement, tinnitus, more frequent urination, and alterations in your sense of taste are also possible. Wellbutrin may additionally raise your blood pressure. 

With these more common side effects, it's a good idea to keep an eye on them and let your prescribing doctor know if they persist, especially but not exclusively if the side effects are so bad they make you want to quit your antidepressant. (Don't do this without medical supervision!)

More serious side effects are also rarer, but you need to get in touch with your doctor — or head to the ER — right away if they happen:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • An irregular or faster heart beat
  • Bad anxiety or phobias
  • Mental confusion
  • Vision changes

Some of these side effects are especially associated with taking more of your Wellbutrin than you were told to, AKA overdosing.

If you are new to Wellbutrin (bupropion) and are experiencing an allergic reaction, the symptoms can include hives, itching, blisters, trouble breathing, and swelling of the face and other areas of the body. This is dangerous, so call an ambulance (or have someone else do that). 

What else do you need to know about Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin isn't suitable for everyone. As a patient, you don't need to know all the ins and outs of who can and cannot take the medication, but you do need to make sure your doctor has access to your full medical records, or is fully aware of any other medical conditions you have and what medications you may be taking. Your prescribing doctor should share all relevant information with you and you should feel absolutely free to ask any questions you have — so you know exactly what you can expect when you start taking Wellbutrin. 

Some of the things your doctor should discuss with you are:

  • You cannot take Wellbutrin in the first 14 days after discontinuing an antidepressant from the monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) family. 
  • If you use alcohol in larger amounts or take street drugs, your doctor needs to be aware of this as well — they can interact with Wellbutrin in a bad way.
  • If you have an eating disorder, your doctor needs to know about it, again, as it can influence the way in with your antidepressant works. 
  • Wellbutrin can make you drowsy, so do not operate heavy machinery, or even drive your car, until you know whether this is true for you.
  • Let your doctor know if you are trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding. 

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