Saturday, June 28, 2008

Side Effects Whilst Taking Zyrtec

As mentioned in my last post I started taking Zyrtec 10mg once a day at the recommendation of my allergist and GP to try and minimise my chronic hives and angiodema (swelling) caused by salicylate intolerance.

It is difficult to discern just exactly what symptoms I experienced were directly attributable towards Zyrtec as some of them cross over with my symptoms due to my salicylate intolerance. The symptoms are also very subjective and hard to measure. That said, now that I am off Zyrtec and reflecting back on the past 18 months I am absolutely shocked at the state my health was in and the stark contrast to the good health I now have since I stopped taking Zyrtec, particularly my mental health - I just didn't realise how bad it was at the time. I am shocked enough to try and get the word out to warn others who maybe don't realise what taking Zyrtec could be doing to them.

My most obvious symptom - Menstrual Problems

The symptom that prompted me to start to seek answers was the serious menstrual issues I was having. I am not on the contraceptive pill (and haven't been for years) or any taking any hormone treatments. I never really tracked or monitored my cycle, but it was fairly regular and my periods weren't anything unusual (moderate flow for a few days every month or so). In September 2007 I realised that they were occuring too frequently so I started making notes in my diary. By December there was no need to make notes, it was very obvious that there was something seriously wrong. My cycle length had steadily decreased to 10 days and 5 of those days were spent with a period. So it was pretty much 5 days on, 5 days off over and over again. I was also spotting regularly. I was frequently nauseous and constantly experiencing all of the symptoms usually associated with PMS; breast tenderness, water retention, chocolate cravings etc. Interestingly enough at one point all the symptoms seemed to point to pregnancy - I have since read many comments in the Zyrte side effects web pages from women saying that they were convinced they were pregnant.

In January 2008 I went to the doctor and was sent for multiple blood tests and an internal ultrasound which all came up completely normal. The doctor was at a loss as to what the cause was medically. At the time we decided it was due to stress (and it was certainly a contributing factor) as I was in the final months of my Masters study. However, once I had finished my study in early February and work was quiet I had very little stress in my life. Over the following six weeks my cycle length improved to 15-20 days but the nausea continued (just a couple of days ever week or two).

Other symptoms at the Time

I was constantly feeling unwell and run down. I had very little energy and was always tired - no matter how much sleep I got. I would be shattered if I didn't get at least 9 hrs sleep in a night. I had a short fuse and was frequently tetchy and anxious (often acutely - I would get worked up about the smallest of things) which I attributed at the time to constantly having PMS. I would have days where I would spend the entire day picking arguments with my darling husband who would just duck and cover knowing that there was no reasoning with me. People in general annoyed the crap out of me, particularly if they were cheery or invasive. I was frequently spaced out and had problems with my concentration and memory - however these symptoms are also caused by salicylate intolerance so it was unclear what was causing them at the time. I was also quite severely disconnected from life in general, I tended to daydream a lot as a means of escaping from reality. My behaviour was apathetic and my thinking at times warped, something I was only vaguely aware of at the time. I think my overall attitude is summed up well by a woman who commented on her own similar experience "it wasn't that I was suicidal, I just didn't care if I lived or died".

Connecting the symptoms with Zyrtec

It was at this stage I had run out of excuses for my poor health. I had minimal stress in my life, I was eating a fairly strict diet and had changed my lifestyle completely (minimal chemicals in my environment, more exercise, more relaxation and better stress coping mechanisms) to control my salicylate intolerance yet I still felt out of control, tired and unwell all the time. My health should have been improving. All the symptoms I was experiencing I was blaming on my salicylate intolerance but something just didn't make sense. I had hit a wall and gone backwards in the past year with my symptoms, when I would have expected that my symptoms would improve after being reducing my salicylate exposure more and more and building my tolerance.

My mum (what would we do without mums!) searched the internet for answers; we became suspicious of Zyrtec (it was the only medication I was taking apart from the occasional paracetamol for pain) having ruled out everything else, so started looking for more information on the side effects. We found what we were looking for, other people out there listing my exact symptoms and more. The pages were surprisingly hard to find - I suppose it depends what keywords you are searching using. I have listed the best links that we have found so far on the right hand side of this page under 'More Information - Useful Links'.

Reading about the side effects of Zyrtec

It was actually quite astonishing and scary to read about other peoples' experiences with Zyrtec. My experiences are all too common. One long term effect is excessive weight gain and food cravings; I am overweight and experienced regular food cravings. I tried to lose weight last year by seeing a personal trainer multiple times a week, increasing my exercise and moderating my diet. Despite drastic changes to my lifestyle I did not lose any significant amount of weight, just toned up a bit. Depression, menstrual and PMS symptoms are frequently described by people. Behavioural and anger problems are particularly noted in children of all ages by many parents as well as in adults. Someone even listed 'divorce' as a possible side effect of the drug; funny, but potentially true in extreme cases! Thankfully divorce, heart issues, dry mouth and night terrors are the commonly listed symptoms that I did not experience.

Real of Psychosomatic?

A number of people on these sites question the validity of people linking Zyrtec with depression and weight gain. They throw around terms such as 'psychosomatic' or claim that people are just not accepting responsibility for their health. What a load of shite; who are they to question people and tell them it is 'all in their head'. People are experiencing very cut and dry mood changes (and weight issues) when starting or stopping Zyrtec. Just because it hasn't affected you this way doesn't mean it doesn't affect another person differently. People suffering from the symptoms of severe depression don't need to be told they are crazy, it's ignorant and unhelpful. Depression is a very real illness.

For me the mood altering affect of Zyrtec was drastic. For over a year I was depressed, completely numbed of any feelings of happiness. Any feelings of joy (at a typically happy even such as a family gathering) were brief and often followed by a marked mood swing into a prolonged period of extreme depression. I had forgotten completely what it felt like to be happy but didn't even know it. When I decreased and subsequently stopped Zyrtec the cloud of gloom lifted - literally overnight. It is a month and a half later and I am pleased to say that I have not had a single day where I haven't felt happy since stopping Zyrtec. I think this diary entry sums it up well:

I have been on a half dose since Sunday and have suffered for it (increase in hives, inability to sleep well, headaches). I will cut out the half dose sometime next week depending on how I am going. The crazy thing is how I feel though. I feel happy. Not just a fleeting happy, but absolutely crazy happy and ready to take on the world. I am not sure if it will last, but I had no idea how unhappy I had been feeling these past few years (in comparison).

So I sit here covered in hives, not able to sleep at night and the happiest I have felt in years. Yipee!

This was a completely and utterly unexpected consequence of stopping Zyrtec. All I had been hoping for was my menstrual cycle to correct itself. The mental changes took me completely by surprise and I am still amazed at the marked difference in my attitude, outlook on life and mood. I am blown away that it occured literally overnight; for me Zyrtec was a mind altering drug. The onset of the effects was slow and went un-noticed, in stark contrast the disappearance of the effects within days of stopping it was really obvious. I am back to my happy old self - I had forgotten what it was like to be normal.

As for the weight problems with Zyrtec, I was overweight before taking it but am hoping that my healthier lifestyle will have more of a positive effect on weight loss now - it is just a matter of wait and see I guess. My food cravings have decreased, although I think they were linked in with the constant PMS state I was in.

So all that is really left to tell now is the symptoms I experienced when giving up Zyrtec. I think they deserve a post of their own as there are so many of them.

Monday, June 2, 2008

My Background

I am 27 years old, female and live in the sub-tropics in Australia. My family has a history of ADHD, Asthma, Eczema and a whole host of other allergy / food intolerance related problems. Click here to learn the difference between an allergy and food intolerance and for an introduction to food intolerance.

I suffer from severe Salicylate Intolerance which gives me the following symptoms:
  • Hives / Urticaria; on a daily basis - always varying in intensity, size and location. Popular locations are my arms and torso.
  • Angiodema / Swelling; initially on a daily basis, now every couple of days or so - most frequently facial (lips, eyelids), fingers and feet when I am having a bad reaction, tongue or throat when I am having a really bad reaction.
  • Neurological Symptoms; Brain fog (mental fuzziness - I went from very being a very precise person to completely vague and confused), memory problems (mainly short term - when reading I would forget the start of the sentence by the time I had finished reading it, I would forget words, half way through tasks I would forget what I was doing etc.), co-ordination problems (at my worst I would trip over, fall or bump into things 10+ times in a day).
  • Fatigue; At my worst I was struggling to get up at 4pm in the afternoon each day to make dinner (having gone to bed at 10pm the night before). Usually when I have a bad reaction I really struggle to get out of bed the next morning no matter how much sleep I have had - I am then in a daze all day which no amount of sleep can help.
Stress and Hormones
Stress is a huge factor and completely under-researched and under-documented as far as I am concerned. When I am stressed my tolerance levels drop dramatically. Another key factor is hormones; I have more severe reactions in the days before my period is due.

In the past year I have been under a large amount of stress due to a heavy workload at my job as well as finishing off my postgraduate study part time. On reflection, this was an underlying contributing factor to the severity of my salicylate intolerance over the past year.

Too Many Variables
One thing that drives me nuts about food intolerances is the sheer number and variety of variables involved. For any given food intolerance reaction my stress levels, exposure to foods over the past 24 hrs, exposure to airborne pollutants over the past 24 hrs and hormone levels all have an effect on the severity and type of reaction. This makes it very hard to distinguish a clear cause for a reaction, consequently it makes the prevention of reactions very hard. It also makes it hard to distinguish what symptoms are even part of a reaction (ie. If I have a headache it could just be a regular headache or it could be a part of a reaction to smelling something. Smelling mint gives me terrible headaches but I am not sure what else has that effect).

Failsafe Diet
The best solution to minimising my problems with salicylates is to avoid them. Unfortunately that is easier said than done as salicylates are present in just about every food of plant origin. I am very fortunate to have found the 'Failsafe Diet' which is based upon the information contained in Anne Swain's thesis 'The role of natural salicylates in food intolerance'. The diet focuses on minimising both artificial and natural chemicals in your environment and diet. I have had a huge amount of success with this diet and highly recommend it. The diet helped me to vastly improve my health and decrease the severity of my symptoms however I was still experiencing hives, swelling and other neurological symptoms on a daily basis.

Starting Zyrtec
I started taking Zyrtec 10mg daily each morning about 18 months ago at the recommendation of my allergist and GP. I did not have any noticable trouble with drowsiness when taking Zyrtec. I took Zyrtec in an attempt to stop or minimise the daily hives and facial swelling I was experiencing. The Zyrtec helped minimise the hives and swelling but did not stop them. My allergist had recommended that I try Zyrtec for a month straight to 'break the cycle' of the hives. So after a month I tried stopping Zyrtec and found that my hives got worse so I figured that it was helping me. So I kept on taking the Zyrtec. Each time I felt like I was getting better I tried stopping the Zyrtec but would find that my hives would be much worse within 24hrs of stopping it. So I thought that the Zyrtec was really helping me minimise my hives and other symptoms. WRONG...but more about that later.