I have what doctors call untreatable major depression, but once in awhile when it gets too bad, I have to take antidepressants. The side effects of most antidepressants are too severe for me, and I build up a tolerance to them really quickly. The only one I seemed to tolerate well was bupropion, marketed as Wellbutrin, Zyban, Voxra, Budeprion, Prexaton, Elontril or Aplenzin. Now I’ve found that a rare side effect may make me unable to use this one as well.
How I Started Noticing the Memory Loss
I’m 60 years old and have lupus, so I have some memory problems anyway, but suddenly, it was so bad I began to think I may be getting senile dementia or Alzheimer’s. I would go to say something, get halfway through the sentence, and forget what I was saying. I would move things and never remember where they were, and find them in the strangest places. I literally could not remember names of things I’ve known most of my life, like plants I’ve grown for many years. I would be talking about a plant, use the name, then further on in the conversation, forget the name completely. I began to forget appointments and had to use a reminder add-on with my browser to remind me of the simplest of everyday tasks. When I tried to write, I would have to refer to reference materials over and over to write even a simple sentence. I knew this wasn’t right, and it was certainly scary. When I finally did some research and learned about the memory loss side effect of bupropion, my roommate told me she had noticed the memory problems too and suspected they may be related to the medication.
How Bupropion Causes Memory Loss
To put it in laymen’s terms, bupropion blocks acetylcholine (ACh), defined as “a neurotransmitter which plays an important role in memory.” Bupropion is an acetylcholine antagonist, meaning it reduces or blocks the secretion of acetylcholine in your body. Without the acetylcholine, your brain neurons cannot transmit electrical impulses properly, thus the misfiring that causes intermittent or short-term memory loss. This same antagonism is what causes it to be effective in helping people to stop smoking.
The antagonistic effects of bupropion mainly affect the hippocampus, the portion of the brain responsible for memory, learning and emotion, which would explain both the effects on memory and depression.
Can the Memory Loss Be Reversed?
Some people have found relief from the memory-loss side effect of bupropion by taking Acetyl-L-Carnitine supplements. Since the supplemental form isn’t manufactured by your body, it isn’t blocked by the medication. I have been taking this for a few days and can definitely tell the difference in my attentiveness and memory. While higher dosages are recommended for certain conditions, a normal dosage for memory improvement is 250 mg a day, which seems to work well for me.
WARNING: You should not use this if you are pregnant or nursing, or have an underactive thyroid. Those with a history of seizures should not take this supplement, as it may worsen your condition.
Is This Side Effect of Bupropion as Rare as They Say?
While searching for information on bupropion and memory loss, I came across dozens of forum entries across the web where users were having this side effect. They all stated that when they ceased taking the drug, the memory problems went away. It doesn’t seem to be age related, because people of all ages were reporting memory loss with bupropion. Older people may, however, dismiss the memory loss as just part of aging, which is rather frightening. I believe another study needs to be done on this, because obviously, it is not as rare a side effect as the pharmaeutical companies say it is.
If you are taking bupropion as a generic or under any of the name brands listed above and having memory problems, please report it to your doctor. There may be other medications that would work well for you.
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