Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/23/2020
Suffering from depression isn’t only the hopelessness you feel upon waking to yet another day; it’s the inability to live life with any sort of joy or fulfillment. Living with depression makes you feel like an empty shell of who you once were.
Fortunately, there are treatment options out there. Lexapro® is one.
Getting help for depression can seem an insurmountable task. After all, the most basic activities can seem like a challenge when you’re depressed.
But getting medical advice from your healthcare provider is a low-risk — and potentially high-reward — use of your time and effort.
Lexapro comes with potential side effects, as do most prescription drugs. But by researching these possible effects, you may very well find the risks are worth the rewards.
Lexapro, a brand name drug also known under the generic name escitalopram oxalate, is an antidepressant drug made by the drug company H. Lundbeck.
It is a member of a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
SSRIs work to increase the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
This chemical influences mood, sleep and emotion.
SSRIs allow for more serotonin to freely circulate by blocking the reabsorption of it into the cells.
Lexapro was approved in 2002 by the US Food and Drug Administration. Its two primary uses are for the treatment of major depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder.
These two conditions often exist together — as many as 60 percent of depressed patients suffer from anxiety symptoms, and it’s believed as many as 17.3 million US adults suffer from major depressive disorder.
Both major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorders are diagnoses that must come from a healthcare provider.
The DSM-IV — a giant book that outlines what constitutes mental health disorders — details the criteria for these diagnoses. In other words, they aren’t taken lightly.
According to the DSM-IV, major depressive disorder is a prominent and persistent depressive mood, likely occurring every day for at least two weeks.
This “mood” generally interferes with your daily functioning and includes some of the following symptoms: depression, weight and appetite change, changes in sleep, loss of interest in regular activities, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, impaired concentration, agitation and suicidal thoughts or tendencies.
The manual describes generalized anxiety disorder as excessive worry and anxiety that lasts at least six months and is hard to control.
It also includes the following symptoms: feeling on edge, restlessness, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, sleep disturbances and muscle tension.
Lexapro is just one possible solution for these conditions.
Other SSRIs and antidepressants of other types are available for your healthcare provider to prescribe.
However, SSRIs are generally the go-to choice of antidepressant drugs, due to both their effectiveness and the fewer side effects users experienced when compared with older drug types.
Lexapro (escitalopram) comes with side effects, like any medication. Whether or not you will experience these side effects when you take the medication is unclear — not everyone experiences them.
But knowing they’re a possibility can help you prepare for discomfort while your body gets accustomed to the new treatment.
The most common side effects of Lexapro include:
Insomnia or trouble sleeping
Inability to reach orgasm
Additionally, Lexapro can be linked to a change in weight.
One risk of Lexapro is the development of serotonin syndrome, a life-threatening condition most common when taken with other drugs.
The symptoms of this serious condition include: changes in mental status, changes in heart rate or blood pressure, muscular symptoms such as tremors or rigidity, seizures and gastrointestinal symptoms.
People suffering from serotonin syndrome need emergency medical treatment.
Taking Lexapro with other drugs can increase your risks of serotonin syndrome and other serious side effects. These drugs include: triptans, fentanyl, lithium, tramadol, buspirone, amphetamines, St. John's Wort, MAOIs and others.
For this reason, it’s crucial to tell your healthcare provider about all medications you’re on before starting any new prescription drug.
If you take Lexapro, you should not discontinue use abruptly, as it may lead to symptoms of withdrawal. Mood problems, agitation, anxiety, confusion and other serious symptoms can occur.
Your healthcare provider can help you slowly decrease your dosage over time before going off of the drug to minimize the risk of these symptoms.
Before taking any prescription drug, talk with your healthcare provider about your existing conditions and other medications and supplements you may be taking. They can help prevent the risks of adverse reactions and keep you safe as you treat your depression and anxiety.