What is Fluoxetine?

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  • Originally Written By: Harriette Halepis
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2016
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Fluoxetine is a pharmaceutical drug known for its antidepressant qualities. The name “fluoxetine” is something of a generic term used to describe the ingredient combination, and medications aren’t usually sold under this name but rather under brand names that reflect different manufacturers’ takes on the basic ingredient. Prozac® is one of the best-known drugs in this category, and was also the first; other popular choices are Sarafem®, Fontex®, and Ladose®, but a lot depends on location. The drug is primarily used to treat moderate to severe depression. It has a range of uses, though, and has also been prescribed to treat things like eating disorders and hormonal imbalances related to menstruation. It is usually considered very effective and most experts consider it to be safe for children, too, though it is not without its risks and side effects. Deciding to take this or any other drug is a decision that should be weighed carefully, ideally in conjunction with a doctor or mental health provider.


Drug Basics

The drug is what is known as a “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.” As such, the chemicals it contains increase the amount of serotonin within the brain. Since serotonin is responsible for elevating mood levels, medications in this category can help depressed individuals restore the chemical balance needed to experience happiness. A number of studies have shown that a lack of serotonin in the brain may be one of the chief reasons for depression, though for most people the condition is quite complex.

Fluoxetine was first introduced to the market in 1987 by the American pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company; it was this company that designed and patented Prozac®, and Prozac® was the only available preparation of the drug — at least in the United States — until Eli Lilly’s patent expired in 2001. Since that time a number of other manufacturers have used the Prozac® template to create competing products with similar ingredient profiles.

Primary Use for Major Depression

The primary reason drugs in this class are prescribed is for the treatment of clinical depression. A number of studies have been done assessing the drugs’ efficacy in patients all along the depression spectrum, and most have concluded that it is highly effective for people with cases in the “severe” or “major” category. There tends to be more uncertainty when it comes to treating mild and moderate cases, though the drugs are still widely prescribed under these conditions in many places.


There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the frequent prescription and widespread use of antidepressants. Many medical professionals believe that this sort of drug is important when it comes to reducing the number of suicides within the world and improving the quality of life for those suffering from mental health disorders, but others argue that drugs do little more than mask symptoms in the short term. Experts with this line of thinking usually argue that intensive therapy is a better solution than medication. Regardless the arguments on either side, though, Prozac® and its like continue to be widely prescribed throughout the world.

Other Conditions Treated

Mood disorders aren’t the only thing these sorts of drugs can treat. They are often prescribed for people coping with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, to name just a few. While it is clear how fluoxetine works to help those with clinical depression, it has not been as solidly established that it can help those with other disorders. Healthcare providers usually look at the patient’s entire history and individual circumstances before prescribing these or any drugs, and what works for one person might not work for another.

Risks and Side Effects

Even though the drug has many positive benefits, it also has its drawbacks. Nausea, insomnia, anxiety, anorexia, tremors, and reduced libido are all known side effects. There are also a number of drug interactions to be mindful of. In particular, medications containing monoamine oxidase inhibitors, pimozide, or thioridazine should not usually be taken alongside the antidepressant since they can alter the way it’s absorbed and can cause a number of problematic internal reactions.

It’s important to keep in mind that Prozac® and its related family of medications do not actually cure depression or any of the other illnesses mentioned above. They reduce symptoms and can help people get better, but in most cases they’re used in conjunction with cognitive therapy and other mental health interventions. Anyone who wonders whether this sort of medication might be right for them should talk with a healthcare provider and weigh the risks and benefits before beginning.


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how does this drug compare with lexapro?

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