Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to prescription medication.
Desvenlafaxine is a prescription drug which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. to treat major depressive disorder (MDD). The full chemical name for the drug is desvenlafaxine succinate.
Is this drug proven in clinical trials to reduce or eliminate depression? Does it cause severe side effects? Does it cause withdrawals? And how do real users rate it?
In this article we'll answer these questions and more as we review clinical studies on desvenlafaxine to determine if it's safe and effective for treating depression. We'll compare the drug to other leading antidepressants and share real, unsponsored user reviews documenting its effects.
How Effective is Desvenlafaxine for Depression?
There have been a number of clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of desvenlafaxine for reducing symptoms of depression.
One such trial published in 2012 found desvenlafaxine to be effective for depressed patients.
The trial participants assigned to desvenlafaxine reported significantly reduced depression scores. The average HAM-D score (a clinical depression grading tool) was greater than 20 at the start of the trial and less than 10 at the end of the trial, representing a decrease in depression symptoms of around 50%.
A medical review published in The Primary Care Companion journal evaluated the efficacy of desvenlafaxine for patients with major depression. This review analyzed data from three clinical trials on the topic.
The researchers concluded that desvenlafaxine improved the condition of depressed patients on average. Remission rates were around 10% higher in the trial participants taking desvenlafaxine compared to the trial participants taking placebo pills. Remission is defined as an extended period free of any major depressive symptoms.
Another meta-study published in 2010 concluded that desvenlafaxine was effective for treating depression and was slightly more effective than SSRI drugs, which is the drug class that represents most antidepressants.
We will conclude from the available research that desvenlafaxine is effective for treating major depression.
Desvenlafaxine Side Effects
Desvenlafaxine has a “black box” warning on its FDA label, which references a risk of severe side effects. The black box warning states that desvenlafaxine may increase risk of suicidal thoughts or actions in children, adolescents and young adults.
A clinical trial published in the Current Medical Research and Opinion journal documented that 5% more patients at a 100 milligram (mg) daily dose of desvenlafaxine had to drop out of the trial due to serious side effects when compared with those taking placebo pills.
Dizziness was the most commonly-reported side effect, and occurred 8% more frequently on desvenlafaxine than on placebo. Dry mouth occurred 9% more frequently, and constipation occurred 7% more frequently.
Clearly the more common side effects of desvenlafaxine are relatively mild, but the rare risk of suicide-related side effects is concerning.
It may be beneficial for parents who are considering desvenlafaxine for their child to speak with their child’s doctor about alternative antidepressant medications without the potential for increased suicidality. It may be useful for young adults (the age range for “young adult” is not defined on the FDA label) to discuss the same concerns with their doctor.
Real, Unsponsored Desvanlafaxine User Review
A YouTube creator named Anxiously Bri who focuses on mental health content published a video explaining her experience using desvenlafaxine after seven weeks, including how the increased dose changed her experience, and what side effects she has experienced:
Desvenlafaxine Vs. Venlafaxine
Venlafaxine is another commonly-prescribed antidepressant, although as we documented in our venlafaxine reviews article, it's also FDA-approved to treat anxiety. Patients are often curious about which generic drug is more effective.
A comparative medical review published in 2012 examined the efficacy and safety of these two drugs for treating depression. The researchers concluded that they were equal in terms of efficacy, but that desvenlafaxine caused fewer side effects.
Another medical review examined data on patients who were unresponsive to venlafaxine and switched to desvenlafaxine. Over 50% of them were categorized as “responders” to desvenlafaxine, which suggests that the drug may be effective for patients that achieve no benefit from venlafaxine.
Based on the available research, there doesn’t seem to be much clinical difference between desvenlafaxine and venlafaxine, which is unsurprising given that the two drugs are chemically similar. We would recommend that patients speak with their doctor about desvenlafaxine over venlafaxine, because it may have a slightly superior side effect profile.
Should I Take the Branded Version of Desvenlafaxine?
The brand-name version of desvenlafaxine is Pristiq.
As we documented in our Pristiq reviews article, there has been extensive clinical research comparing the efficacy and safety of branded and generic drugs, and both categories are equally effective on average. This makes logical sense given that branded and generic drugs have the exact same active chemical compound.
This suggests that desvenlafaxine should be equally effective to Pristiq, but may be cheaper, especially for patients without health insurance.
Desvenlafaxine is prescribed at multiple doses according to StatPearls which is one of the largest free medical databases in the U.S. StatPearls reports that the daily starting dose of desvenlafaxine is typically 50 mg, but the maximum daily therapeutic dose is 400 mg.
We located an interesting study on dosage that’s worth highlighting. A clinical trial compared the efficacy of desvenlafaxine at 50 mg and 100 mg per day.
Contrary to what one might expect, the drug was actually more effective at the lower dose. Trial participants taking 50 mg daily experienced greater reductions in depression than those taking 100 mg daily.
Doctors often start patients on the lowest therapeutic dose, because lower doses tend to confer a lower risk of side effects. But in light of this clinical trial, it may be worthwhile for patients to speak with their doctor about starting at a 50 mg dose, and only increasing dosage if they fail to experience benefit at that dose.
Desvenlafaxine Withdrawal Symptoms
Desvenlafaxine does appear to have a risk of withdrawal symptoms, which is somewhat common for drugs which modulate neurotransmitter function.
A meta-study from 2009 investigated withdrawal symptoms associated with desvenlafaxine discontinuation. The most common withdrawal symptoms were: dizziness, nausea, headache and irritability.
Patients taking higher daily doses of desvenlafaxine experienced worse withdrawal symptoms on average. After the third week, patients withdrawing from a 400 mg/day dose were still experiencing withdrawal symptoms twice as severe than patients withdrawing from a 100 mg/day dose.
We would strongly recommend that patients speak with their doctor prior to quitting desvenlafaxine, because a trained medical professional can help reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms by creating a tapering schedule. By slowly reducing daily dose according to research standards rather than stopping abruptly, the risk of withdrawal symptoms may be lessened.
Desvenlafaxine for Anxiety
Desvenlafaxine isn’t approved by the FDA to treat anxiety, but it may be a good option for patients with both depression and anxiety.
A medical review published in the CNS Spectrums journal assessed data from nine clinical trials on desvenlafaxine to study its anti-anxiety effects.
Those taking desvenlafaxine reported significantly reduced anxiety by the end of the trials than at baseline. Anxiety scores were 14% lower in those taking desvenlafaxine than those taking placebo.
Another clinical trial evidenced similar results. Depressed patients taking desvenlafaxine were less anxious by the end of the trial.
These studies only examined the efficacy of desvenlafaxine for anxiety in patients that were already depressed, so this does not prove that the drug is effective for anxiety in patients that are not depressed. However, this does suggest that desvenlafaxine may be a good option for patients with both depression and anxiety.
How Does Desvenlafaxine Work?
Desvenlafaxine is a member of a class of drugs called serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI). The drug is 10x more selective for serotonin than norepinephrine, which means that it has greater effects on serotonin levels in the brain than on norepinephrine.
SNRI drugs delay the body’s processing and clearance of serotonin and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters that have significant effects on mood. By delaying biological processing of these neurotransmitters, desvenlafaxine causes an artificial increase in their circulating levels, which can improve mood and reduce depression.
It hasn’t been conclusively proven that patients with depression have lower levels of these neurotransmitters than non-depressed patients, but this is the suggested mechanism of action.
Our Mental Wellness Recommendation
We recommend a platform called Brightside to patients on a mental health journey. It's an online therapy and medication platform that connects patients with licensed therapists and doctors from the comfort of their home.
A medical review published in the Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy journal found that online therapy was equally effective to in-person therapy for treating depression, anxiety and PTSD. Therapy may be a good first option for patients who want to avoid the side effects of medication.
Brightside also can connect patients with licensed psychiatrists that can prescribe medication. Some patients choose only therapy, some choose only medication, and some choose both. The brand reports that 86% of members feel significantly better within 12 weeks of treatment.
Patients with and without health insurance can use Brightside. For many patients with health insurance, treatment is entirely covered by insurance.
The cost for medication without health insurance is capped at $95/month and the cost for therapy without health insurance is capped at $299/month.
Interested patients can check out Brightside at this link to the brand's website.
Desvenlafaxine User Reviews
Desvenlafaxine has been reviewed over 800 times on Drugs.com at the time of writing this article. This website allows users to publish reviews of prescription drugs they’re taking.
The average rating of desvenlafaxine for depression is 6.9/10.
The top positive review is written by a user named “Aljo” who claims the medication has provided antidepressant benefits without the sexual side effects of other medications:
“I've recently come off lexapro due to some side effects, loss of sex drive and ejaculations without orgasms. How weird is that? Anyway I'm now on [desvenlafaxine] and the fog has lifted. You forget how good life can be when you're in the spirals of depression. But be active in your care and keep trying different meds because one day you'll succeed. I think [desvenlafaxine] is my 6th attempt at finding my happy place.”
The top negative review is published by a user named “Mylifeisruined” who gave the drug a 1/10 star rating and claims that the side effects reduced their quality of life:
“I suffered almost every side effect, yawning, insomnia, increased anxiety, tinnitus, sweating, incapable of having an orgasm, vivid nightmares. I took [desvenlafaxine] 50mg for 4 weeks and I only had 1 day that I was not depressed. I quit taking it after 4 weeks of sleepless nights and a very loud high pitched ringing in my head. 2 weeks of feeling dizzy and extreme headaches, then 2 months of bad headaches and extreme anxiety.”