Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/16/2022
Anxiety: Everyone with it hates it. It can reduce your joy, your quality of life and your quality of relationships. Luckily, there are medications to treat it, like Cymbalta. If you’ve been prescribed Cymbalta for anxiety, you may have some questions about how, why and when this medication is going to help you with your problems.
It’s hard to answer that question directly — what works for some people doesn’t work for everyone, of course, but Cymbalta does work for many people with anxiety, whether in combination with therapy or on its own.
Understanding why an antidepressant drug like Cymbalta might help with mental health conditions other than depression is a little complicated, and we know that you may have questions.
If you’re new to Cymbalta for anxiety, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve gathered information on the benefits of Cymbalta, the common side effects and the timeline on which this medication may work. First, though, we should really address the foundational topic: How Cymbalta treats anxiety.
Cymbalta is a particular type of antidepressant medication called a selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, or SNRI for short. SNRIs affect your levels of two neurotransmitters in your brain: serotonin and norepinephrine. It’s thought that imbalances in your supply of these neurotransmitters may contribute to the extreme lows of mood that can come as a result of psychiatric disorders like depressive disorders.
Essentially, your brain is always getting rid of excess supplies of neurotransmitters that are floating around, but sometimes it can overdo it on the cleanup, leaving you with no supply when your brain needs to regulate a mood. SNRIs essentially put the bumpers up in the bowling alley lane, so that your brain never goes entirely into the depressive gutter.
Antidepressants like Cymbalta are typically understood to be a treatment for, well, depression, but many of them can also be used to treat the symptoms of anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, either on- or off-label.
In the case of Cymbalta (and its generic form duloxetine), that’s an on-label capability, which means it’s approved by the FDA. Specifically, duloxetine is approved to treat both depressive disorders and generalized anxiety disorder.
Interestingly enough, it’s also used to treat chronic pain like neuropathic pain due to diabetic neuropathy and in the treatment of fibromyalgia. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about — it’s just a cool factoid.
With regards to Cymbalta’s anxiety-fighting powers, one review of eleven other studies found that Cymbalta is more effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder than a placebo or other antidepressants, including Lexapro and Effexor.
The dosage of Cymbalta that you’ll take for anxiety can depend on a few factors. For the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, your Cymbalta daily dose might vary due to your age, height, weight, gender and other biological and genetic factors.
It might also simply be a question of need. Every person’s needs are different, which is why there are different doses in the first place. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
A starting dose of Cymbalta for children, adolescents and the elderly with anxiety is about as low as you go — 30mg. For most adults, the starting dose is typically 60mg, or double what younger and older people take.
At the other end of the spectrum, the maximum dose for anyone in any situation is 120mg per day.
Cymbalta is unique in one respect: there’s not currently any research proving that a higher dose than 60mg confers any benefits to the user. Now, just because evidence doesn’t exist doesn’t mean higher doses don’t work, but from the studies the FDA has seen, there’s no known benefit for the average person to exceed 60mg per day.
That said, if you’re not seeing results, you may ask your healthcare provider about increasing your daily dose as high as 120mg to see if you benefit.
You shouldn’t do this immediately after starting this medication, however, because antidepressants like Cymbalta need time to provide their benefits. How long does that take? Let us explain.
Cymbalta will work at slightly different speeds for everyone, depending on your body weight, age and other factors like your dosage. That said, a properly sized dose of Cymbalta should start to achieve an effective concentration in your blood within a few days.
What this means is that duloxetine-treated patients will start to see the effects of Cymbalta on their mental health in less than a week of treatment — though with the time it takes to adjust to the medication, it could take longer to see results.
This also assumes that your first dose was perfectly balanced. In reality, it may take some time and even a little bit of trial and error for a healthcare provider to find the right dosage for your needs, as we mentioned above. With regards to your quality of life, that may mean weeks of treatment or months until you’ve achieved the desired effect and feel like Cymbalta is “working” on your anxiety.
You might also have to find a balance between a dose strong enough for the desired effects and a dose low enough to manage your side effects, because, like with most prescription medications, people can experience adverse effects from Cymbalta. Let’s explore what those side effects might be like.
Unfortunately, the benefits of Cymbalta for anxiety may come at a price for some, in the form of side effects. These side effects can be mild or severe, brief or recurring, irritating or incapacitating. And they can include a variety of physical, gastrointestinal, sexual and emotional effects.
Cymbalta might cause any of the following at some point in your medication journey:
Abdominal pain, discomfort or tenderness
Decreased sex drive or sexual desire
Sexual dysfunction, including delayed orgasm and decreased sexual satisfaction
Weight loss or weight gain
People taking Cymbalta should definitely consult a healthcare provider if any of these are severe or persistent (or in the case of weight loss, significant). While some side effects may decrease with time, you may want to consult someone about anything you’re experiencing, just to be safe. You should also reach out to a healthcare professional if certain side effects, like those affecting sexual performance, have negative effects on your quality of life.
You should, however, absolutely and get medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following medical conditions or issues:
Swelling of the abdomen
Loss of appetite
Unusual bruising or bleeding
Other adverse reactions may occur depending on your individual risk factors. If you experience anything serious while taking this medication, it’s best just to call a healthcare professional with your concerns. Talk to someone immediately if you feel that your risk of suicidality has been increased by the medication, or if you experience a worsening of depression symptoms.
Also be sure to tell your doctor about any other medications — prescription or over-the-counter medications — that you're taking. This can help you avoid any negative drug interactions, as well as make sure you don't increase your risk of serotonin syndrome, a potentially dangerous condition that can arise when you take too many medications that affect your serotonin.
You’ll also want to talk to a healthcare provider before stopping treatment, so they can help you avoid withdrawal symptoms.
One thing you don’t need to have anxiety over is your anxiety medication. If you’re taking Cymbalta for anxiety and not seeing the results you want, don’t fool around with things yourself. Instead, talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns.
Healthcare providers will have a lot of suggestions and treatment options for how to better control your anxiety. We’ve covered a lot of those here, from our guides to treatment for anxiety to our breakdown of the types of anxiety disorders, including panic disorders, social anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
We know a lot about how to treat anxiety; we also know that the best thing you can do to treat your anxiety is to get medical advice from a professional.
Professional help is key to navigating the treatment journey. If you’re struggling to find the right help, consider our online therapy platform for therapy support. We can also help you find the right medication for your needs, if you’re in search of a better pill.
But whether you let us help you or take your needs elsewhere, here’s one easy pill to swallow: You deserve help, and you should get it today.