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.


Anonymous said...

Me too! I've put on 12 pounds of fat dispight running and starving all year. I woke up one night and realized it was the Zyrtec. I'm off it now and noticed that I'm not tired and depressed anymore. I'm not retaining water or hungry any more. I can't believe it. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, I have been trying to figure out why my menstrual cycle is wacked and I am gaining weight. I run daily and not changed my eating habits. This is crazy. Was actually diagnosed with a inner ear issue to explain the vomiting and dizziness. Experienced some withdrawl symptoms (rebound upper resp. thing) can't wait to fully readjust to life off this medication.

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling optimistic after reading this. I've been taking a generic Zyrtec since the beginning of the year and I think I started having major side effects in April. I am stopping the Zyrtec tonight so I will know for sure soon if what I've been experiencing is a result of taking Zyrtec. But this is what I've experienced: irregular periods (I used to get it regularly like every 26-28th day and it's been erratic up to every 34 days or spotting for 10 days), feel pregnant, gained over 14 pounds, no enthusiasm, irritable, no joy, raging, hopeless. A similar thing happened on Claritin but it was night sweats, feeling spacey, and no sex drive so I started taking Zyrtec. It took me so long to see it this time! I literally thought I was clinically depressed. I can go on... Thank you for sharing details. I really think I am suffering from side effects. Scary stuff. This was over the counter, too.

Anonymous said...

I have Salicylate intolerance too - and the symptoms are the same as yours and it's driving me crazy. Did you find a medication that does help that isn't turning you into either a psycho or a zombie? I am sitting here itching like crazy, was thinking of trying Zyrtec but read your post and now I just won't take the risk, I take regular anti-histamines to help a bit (mainly to stop me scratching and knock me out so I sleep a little). Did you find anything that could help, other than living in a bubble and avoiding everything that is bad for us? (And it seems that almost everything IS bad for us!)

Thanks for this blog!


Anonymous said...

10 pounds, chronic fatigue, harsh PMS, unpredictable menstrual cycle and general malaise since being on Zyrtec but can't find anything else to combat the hives.

Depressing, if not depression.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank you for this post I have been going through the same thing and it just crossed my mind to look up the side effects of zyrtec and i came across this. I have been off of it for 3 days and feel completely different. Yes, I experienced nausea,depression,hoplessness and all of a sudden my cycle is going crazy. Again, thanks so much for this post I now know that I am not crazy

ItchyAnna said...

Anonymous (ItchyCandy) - the biggest help in reducing my hives has been reducing stress in my life. I wouldn't believe it was a real solution if I wasn't living it. I went back over ever major reaction I have had (the worst of the worst) and realised that they each followed periods of acute stress.

For example, getting lost on the way to the airport (at night, in -10deg with snow up to your knees, in a country you can't speak the language) = swollen tongue, throat and face, and a body full of hives the next day. Losing the keys to playgroup and having 8 mums and toddlers waiting on you whilst you find them = hives all over.

I also realised that when work was busy (ie. low level, prolonged stress) my tolerance to foods and chemicals was much lower. I would get a reaction from a fruit or vegetable that I was usually ok with.

I also seem to get worse than usual hives on the first day of my menstrual cycle - not sure if it is a hormonal thing or that I am feeling a little more stressed then than usual.

I've worked hard to reduce stress in my life by keeping it as simple as possible and as chemical free as possible (within reason - trying to live in a perfect bubble would be stressful!) as I believe that everyday chemical exposure if a form of stress on your body whether you are conscious of it or not.

An example of the balance I've tried to attain would be that I use regular cleaning and personal products but usually the low/no scent natural versions. I use Seventh Generation Free and Clear, Moltex (diapers/nappies) for my daughter, Eco Store products and good old bi-carb/vinegar where possible. I don't sacrifice any conveniences but have a much lower chemical exposure. I don't use unnecessary products such as perfume and fabric softener and don't miss them at all.

That's been a solution for me (that I have to continuously work on - have been bad with my food choices recently, and had stress that I could not control, so suffered for it) but may not be for everyone with hives. Unfortunately they are one of those things that seem to have a multitude of causes and seem to be different for everyone.

Anonymous said...

I've been feeling so hopeless the last two months and I've been taking zyrtec, I had no idea where that funny outgoing girl had disappeared to. It got so bad that I saw a therapist, when that didn't help me I started thinking about everything that could contribute to this and then I researched and found things like this. I got off of it, and started feeling better almost immediately also. I'm just relieved that there was a cause for all of this.

Nicki said...

Thanks for sharing your story! It is hard to find others' experiences online. I was on Zyrtec pretty much constantly for a couple of years and got concerned about long term effects, so I quit using it about a month ago. I definitely feel more energetic and happier even though my allergies are quite horrible at the moment. I think I will try to find an allergist that can get to the root of the issues. I also was diagnosed with high c reactive protein, which my doctor attributes to genetics (heart disease history) but I am not convinced since it's also a general indicator for inflammation and could be linked to allergies/asthma/immune system. Hope your symptoms are doing better.