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What is Lexapro (escitalopram)?

Lexapro is a type of antidepressant that works by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Medical professionals prescribe it to treat mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

The generic name for Lexapro is escitalopram, and the medication is available as tablets or liquid drops.

Lexapro is safe and effective for most people, but it can cause some side effects.

What is Lexapro used to treat?

Lexapro is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), an antidepressant used to treat depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).¹

SSRIs work by boosting serotonin activity in the brain, helping you feel more energized and increasing your wellbeing. Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It’s involved with mood, energy levels, and sleep.

How do you take Lexapro?

You can take Lexapro orally, with or without food.

The usual dose of Lexapro is 10–20mg once daily.² Your doctor may prescribe a lower dose to start off and increase it gradually until your symptoms improve. It may take a few weeks to feel the full effects of Lexapro.

The liquid form of Lexapro should be carefully measured using a special measuring device, not a household spoon.

Seeing results

You may notice some physical symptoms improving after one to two weeks³ of Lexapro treatment, including changes to your energy levels, appetite, and sleep. However, it may take up to eight weeks³ to notice improvements in your mood.

Talk to your doctor about adjusting your dose if you don’t feel any different after a few weeks.

Potential side effects of Lexapro

The most common side effects of Lexapro are:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Drowsiness

  • Dry mouth

  • Tiredness

  • Sweating

These side effects usually go away after a few weeks. If they persist or worsen, reach out to your doctor.

Serious side effects

Lexapro is known to cause serious side effects in rare cases.

Like many other antidepressant medications, Lexapro may increase the risk of developing suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Children, teenagers, and young adults are more at risk, particularly during the first few months of taking the drug or when the dose is altered.

Serotonin syndrome is another serious side effect of Lexapro that can occur. Symptoms include:

  • Agitation, hallucinations, coma, or other mental changes

  • Coordination problems or muscle twitching (overactive reflexes)

  • Racing heartbeat

  • High or low blood pressure

  • Sweating or fever

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Muscle rigidity

Other serious side effects include:

  • Low sodium levels in the blood

  • Onset of manic episodes

  • Appetite changes

  • Unexplained weight gain

  • Vision problems, including eye pain, blurred vision, or double vision

Lexapro is a safe and effective medication when used as prescribed. With any medication, there is always the potential for side effects. Be sure to talk to your doctor about all the risks and benefits of taking Lexapro before starting treatment.

Long-term use of Lexapro

Speak with your doctor about any potential risks associated with taking the medication long-term.

Additionally, it is important to be aware of the potential side effects of taking Lexapro for an extended period of time. Some common side effects of long-term Lexapro use include weight gain, sexual side effects, and decreased libido.

Monitor your results carefully with your doctor while taking Lexapro long-term to ensure the medication is working as intended.

Missed doses

Take a missed dose of Lexapro as soon as you remember, unless it is nearly time for your next dose. Do not take an extra dose to make up for the one you missed, as this could cause an overdose. Speak to your doctor if you’re unsure.

Overdoses

Lexapro overdose is potentially fatal, so medical help is required urgently if you think you or someone else has taken too much of this medication.

What to discuss with your doctor before taking Lexapro

There are a few things you should discuss with your doctor before taking Lexapro.

First, let them know if you have any allergies to escitalopram, citalopram, or any other drugs.

Also tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Don’t start taking anything new without consulting your doctor during Lexapro treatment.

Tell your doctor if you’re receiving other kinds of treatment, such as counseling or treatment for a substance abuse problem. Other treatments may be affected by Lexapro, and your doctor can explain how.

Make your doctor aware if you have any medical conditions, such as liver or kidney disease.

Your doctor may decide not to prescribe Lexapro if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, nursing, or planning a pregnancy.

Finally, be sure to ask your doctor about what to expect in terms of side effects and results. This will help you make an informed decision about whether or not Lexapro is right for you.

Stopping Lexapro

You should always taper off Lexapro slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms, and you should never stop taking the medication abruptly or without the guidance of your doctor.

Symptoms of withdrawal can include nausea, headache, and dizziness. If you experience any of these symptoms, speak to your doctor. They will be able to help you taper off of the medication safely.

Lexapro and pregnancy

Lexapro is classified as a pregnancy category C⁴ medication, meaning it’s unknown if taking Lexapro will harm an unborn baby.

A mental health condition like depression could also cause harm during pregnancy, so your doctor will carefully assess the risks and benefits of taking Lexapro and discuss them with you.

You must tell your doctor if you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant before taking this medication.

Tell your doctor if you’re breastfeeding before taking Lexapro. The drug passes into breast milk and may affect a nursing baby, so you should only breastfeed while taking Lexapro if your doctor tells you it’s safe to do so.

Interactions with other drugs

Lexapro may interact with certain drugs. Inform your doctor of any over-the-counter and prescription medications, vitamins, and herbal products you are using.

The following medications may interact with Lexapro:

  • Blood thinners, such as warfarin

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin

  • Other antidepressant medications

Avoid drinking alcohol while taking Lexapro. Drinking can increase some of the drug’s side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating.

Allergy information

Do not take this medicine if you are allergic to escitalopram or citalopram (Celexa).

You may develop a severe allergic reaction after taking Lexapro. Symptoms can include:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Swelling of your face, tongue, eyes, or mouth

  • Rash

  • Itchy welts (hives)

  • Blisters (alone or with fever or joint pain)

  • Seizures or convulsions

Clinical trial history⁵

Three, eight-week, placebo-controlled studies established Lexapro as an effective treatment for major depressive disorder in adults. The primary outcome in all three studies was a change from baseline to endpoint in the Montgomery Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS).

In another study, researchers compared daily doses of 10mg and 20mg of Lexapro to placebo and citalopram given as a 40mg daily dose. Compared to a placebo, Lexapro was shown to be a more effective treatment for major depressive disorder. Outcomes were measured by examining mean improvement on the MADRS scale.

Tips and advice for taking Lexapro

Follow these tips to help you take Lexapro safely and effectively:

  • You can take Lexapro with or without meals.

  • If you stop taking Lexapro abruptly, withdrawal symptoms may arise.

  • Don’t stop taking Lexapro without your doctor’s advice.

  • If this medication makes you sleepy or affects your judgment, do not drive or operate machinery.

  • Don’t drink alcohol while taking Lexapro.

  • Be aware that Lexapro increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior. Ensure friends and family members are aware of this risk and know to seek help if they notice changes in your behavior.

  • Consult your doctor right away if you develop a rash, and seek emergency medical attention if you experience severe allergy-like symptoms such as swelling of the face or throat, or shortness of breath.

  • Do not use any additional medications, including over-the-counter medications, without first consulting your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Constant headaches, disorientation, weakness, or unsteadiness leading to falls should be discussed with your doctor.

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Disclaimer

Here at HealthMatch, we’ve done our best to ensure that the information provided in this article is helpful, up to date, and, most importantly, accurate.

However, we can’t replace the one-to-one advice of a qualified medical practitioner or outline all of the possible risks associated with this particular drug and your circumstances.

It is therefore important for you to note that the information contained in this article does not constitute professional medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or recommendation of treatment and is not intended to, nor should be used to, replace professional medical advice. This article may not always be up to date and is not exhaustive of all of the risks and considerations relevant to this particular drug. In no circumstances should this article be relied upon without independent consideration and confirmation by a qualified medical practitioner.

Your doctor will be able to explain all possible uses, dosages, precautions, interactions with other drugs, and other potential adverse effects, and you should always talk to them about any kind of medication you are taking, thinking about taking or wanting to stop taking.

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