Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): Definition, Effects & Types

Instructor: Kimberly Carpenter

Kimberly has an undergraduate degree in Lab Sciences and a Master's degree in Education.

This lesson will provide you with the definition of monoamine oxidase inhibitors. It will also describe the effects MAOIs have on the human body and give a general overview of various types of this category of antidepressants. A short quiz will follow.

Depression and Its Root Cause

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt life was hitting 'rock bottom' for you and perhaps you were overwhelmed with grief? Maybe this was caused by the death of a loved one? Possibly the stresses of life, family, a job, and various responsibilities became so much of a burden that you felt you were entering a black hole and could not find your way out?

For many individuals, the two scenarios above have been used to describe general depression. There are varying degrees of depression and treatments for depression. This lesson is only intended to serve as informational material for one specific treatment of depression. The important note to consider is depression leaves a person with physical symptoms, even if the feelings are actually generated by chemicals inside of the brain. Clinically, some of these symptoms can be fatigue, weight gain or loss, thoughts of suicide, insomnia, and a desire to withdraw from family and friends.

Normally, after a few weeks, you may 'snap' out of the depression; however, sometimes therapy is needed, and you should seek treatment from a healthcare professional before dropping further into the black hole. Upon assessment of your symptoms, a healthcare professional may prescribe antidepressants to help with the depression. There are a variety of antidepressants available, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are one classification of drugs which can be used to treat the symptoms of depression by stabilizing certain chemicals inside of your brain.

General Depression Symptoms

Definition of Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors

MAOIs were actually the first type of antidepressants developed and used to treat depression. The medications have actually been effective in the treatment of depression. This medication, much like other antidepressants, works by helping the different chemical messengers in your brain cells to communicate more effectively. The medication balances the different chemicals so there are consistently enough between each brain cell.

You can think of it this way. One of the roles the chemicals in your brain play is to help cushion your brain cells. If you have enough chemicals on a continuous basis, you essentially have enough cushion between the cells and all things remain balanced. However, if you are depressed for any reason, these chemicals can become unbalanced and the cushion will begin to dissolve. The antidepressants work by ensuring the chemical cushion remains between your brain cells and those cells do not have a chance to become unbalanced.

Effects of MAOIs

Despite the fact MAOIs have helped a large number of individuals, there are many side effects and these are important to know if you are ever prescribed this classification of drugs. The side effects can be so severe that, due to newer drugs available, MAOIs are only used when needed as a last resort.

There are side effects to simply taking the drug as prescribed by a healthcare professional. Some of these are sleepiness, dizziness and diarrhea, alterations in taste, weight gain, and muscle aches. Also, you should never use MAOIs when pregnant or while nursing. You should also avoid other antidepressants, pain medications, decongestants, and any herbal supplements due to a possible interaction.

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