Weight gain is a common—but not inevitable—side effect of many antidepressants.
Wellbutrin stands out from the crowd in this case because studies and anecdotal reports have shown that it may actually lead to weight loss
This doesn’t mean that Wellbutrin will help everyone lose weight, nor does it mean it should be used strictly for this purpose.
Before you consider Wellbutrin for any reason, read on to learn what Wellbutrin is, its common side effects, how it can affect weight, and other precautions to know before using this antidepressant.
What Is Wellbutrin?
Wellbutrin is a brand name for bupropion, an antidepressant medication that is a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI).
This mouthful is simply a name for drugs that increase levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain.
Over time, this increase may improve symptoms of depression.
Doctors also prescribe it to help decrease nicotine cravings in people who are trying to quit smoking.
Off-label, Wellbutrin may also be used to treat:
- Eating disorders
- Bipolar disorder
How Wellbutrin works
Wellbutrin works by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
Low levels of these neurotransmitters are associated with depressive symptoms, so Wellbutrin may help improve mood and other symptoms of depression.
It typically takes a few weeks to a few months for people to notice significant improvements from taking Wellbutrin for depression.
Common Wellbutrin Side Effects
Wellbutrin tends to have milder side effects than other antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Side effects also tend to lessen as your body adjusts to the medication.
Common Wellbutrin side effects include:
Tell your doctor if you notice new or worsening side effects while taking Wellbutrin.
Wellbutrin and Weight Loss
Weight change is a common side effect of any antidepressant.
Though everyone responds differently, most antidepressants tend to lead to weight gain.
Wellbutrin, however, is most commonly associated with weight loss.
It’s unclear exactly why Wellbutrin has this effect.
It may have to do with the fact that the drug affects dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which play a role in appetite, satiety, and feeding behaviors.
Increasing levels of these neurotransmitters may cause changes in eating and, therefore, weight.
Still, Wellbutrin is not a weight-loss drug and should not be prescribed solely for this purpose.
What the research says
Research on Wellbutrin as a weight-loss drug shows promise, but because results are mixed and the weight loss is not significant, it is not an FDA-approved treatment for weight loss or obesity.
That said, some clinical trials and studies show a possible benefit, usually when combined with changes in diet and exercise.
Below are the highlights of some promising research:
- In a 2016 clinical trial, people who lost at least 5% of their body weight in the first 16 weeks of taking Wellbutrin were more likely to keep the weight off while continuing the medication for at least a year.
- When Wellbutrin is paired with a diet that reduces intake by 500 calories a day, obese individuals who also live with depressive symptoms may be more likely to lose at least 5% of their body weight in 12 weeks, according to one study.
- Long-term Wellbutrin treatment may support modest weight loss in normal weight or overweight people who have been diagnosed with depression, with the percent of weight loss increasing based on body size. In one study, people with a body mass index (BMI) higher than 30 lost an average of five more pounds than people with a BMI of less than 22 did in 11 months.
- In a very small randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, nearly 70% of participants who took Wellbutrin lost more than 5% of their body weight, but only 15% of people who took a placebo saw this same effect. Most of the change in the Wellbutrin group was from losing body fat.
- When combined with counseling on diet and exercise, taking 300 or 400 milligrams of Wellbutrin SR daily for 24 weeks helped obese adults lose 7% or 10% of their body weight, respectively. Continuing the medication for another 24 weeks helped them maintain this weight loss.
How to Take Wellbutrin
- Wellbutrin SR: This sustained-release version has to be taken twice a day, typically once in the morning and once mid-afternoon.
- Wellbutrin XL: This extended-release version is taken less frequently, just once a day, typically in the morning.
No matter which one you take, never crush, break, or chew the tablets.
Doing so affects how the medication is released in your body and, in turn, you may not experience the intended benefits.
Always swallow the pills whole.
You can take Wellbutrin on an empty stomach, although eating some food may help ease any upset stomach caused by the medication.
If you miss a dose, skip that pill and take your next dose at the normal time.
Taking doses too close together can lead to an accidental overdose, which can have severe side effects, including seizures.
Wellbutrin is generally well tolerated.
However, it interacts with more than 400 drugs.
To avoid interactions, make sure your healthcare provider knows what other prescription medications, supplements, and OTC medications you take.
Also never take Wellbutrin with alcohol, as serious side effects may occur.
Wellbutrin may increase the risk for seizures in people who may already be at higher risk.
It also comes with a risk of suicidal thoughts, particularly in children, teenagers, and young adults.
If you notice any changes that concern you while taking Wellbutrin, contact your doctor.
If you’re having a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also get free 24/7 support from a suicide and crisis expert by calling or texting 988. If you’d prefer to chat online, you can chat with a suicide and crisis expert by visiting the Lifeline Chat.
How K Health Can Help
Think you might need a prescription for Wellbutrin (bupropion)?
K Health has clinicians standing by 24/7 to evaluate your symptoms and determine if Wellbutrin is right for you.
Get started with our free assessment, which will tell you in minutes if treatment could be a good fit. If yes, we’ll connect you right to a clinician who can prescribe medication and have it shipped right to your door.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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