Vertigo is not the same as dizziness or lightheadedness. It is “a sensation of motion or spinning ... often described as dizziness,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine 1. One cause of vertigo is ototoxicity—ear poisoning—that may result in permanent or temporary damage to the inner ear or acoustic nerve. According to Timothy C. Hain, M.D., Professor of Otolaryngology at Northwestern University Medical School, many antidepressants can impair balance, “but the mechanism of this effect is uncertain, and probably not due to ototoxicity.” Prescription antidepressants can cause or exacerbate tinnitus, but few will trigger vertigo 2.

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If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as:

  • escitalopram
  • or Lexapro; citalopram
  • or Celexa;
  • fluoxetine
  • or Prozac
  • do not cause vertigo

However, some SSRI antidepressants may impair balance or lead to dizziness, and others may cause tinnitus. In his article, “Ototoxic Medications Can Cause Tinnitus,” tinnitus expert Barry Keate, says “both the older, tricyclic, and the newer, SSRI, antidepressants have this capability.” The Physician’s Desk Reference lists Celexa, Luvox, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft as the SSRI antidepressants that may cause

  • tinnitus [2]( 'inline-reference::Timothy C

* M.D. : Ototoxic Medications').

Tricyclic Antidepressants

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Tricyclics, which include:

  • amitriptyline
  • or Elavil; imipramine
  • or Tofranil;
  • nortriptyline
  • among others
  • have been used to treat depression for many years

Vertigo is not a common or even infrequent side effect of most of these antidepressants. Clomipramine and amitriptyline are tricyclic antidepressants that may cause tinnitus and dizziness, and desipramine may cause dizziness when someone stands up abruptly, but none of these medications cause vertigo.

Atypical Antidepressants

The newer depression drugs, called atypical antidepressants, work differently than SSRIs and tricyclics. Some target other neurotransmitters alone or in addition to serotonin; brain chemicals they affect include norepinephrine and dopamine. Although some of these antidepressants list dizziness as a side effect, most do not cause vertigo. Atypical antidepressants include:

  • venlafaxine
  • or Effexor; duloxetine
  • or Cymbalta; mirtazapine
  • or Remeron; trazodone
  • or Desyrel; nefazodone
  • or Serzone;
  • bupropion
  • or Wellbutrin
  • The newer depression drugs, called atypical antidepressants, work differently than SSRIs and tricyclics.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

Medications for Inner Ear Vertigo

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Monoamine oxidase inhibitors or MAOIs were the first type of antidepressant to be used and date back to the 1950s.