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Lexapro®, an antidepressant that contains the active ingredient escitalopram, is a medication used to treat depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It’s one of the most widely used prescription medications in the United States.
Lexapro belongs to a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Just like other SSRIs, it works by changing the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical responsible for regulating mood, in your brain.
On average, a typical dose of Lexapro will stay in your system for approximately six days after you take it. However, a variety of factors can affect the amount of time it takes for your body to metabolize and excrete the active ingredient in Lexapro.
Below, we’ve explained what you need to know if you’re prescribed Lexapro and have to stop taking your medication, from its half-life and total elimination time to safe methods for stopping treatment with Lexapro or other SSRIs.
Every medication has a half-life — an amount of time that’s required for the concentration of the medication in your body to decrease by half of its initial dose after you take it.
Half-lives can vary hugely from one medication to another. For example, some medications will quickly reduce to half of their original concentration in just a few hours, while others may require several days to decrease to half of their starting dose.
Escitalopram, the active ingredient in Lexapro, has a half-life of between 27 hours and 32 hours. This means that if you take Lexapro, each dose will reach half of its concentration in approximately 27 hours to 32 hours.
For example, if you’re prescribed Lexapro at the typical recommended dose of 10mg per day to treat depression, and assuming there are no other factors affecting how your body clears the medication (like drug interactions, kidney function, etc.), the medication would reduce in concentration like this:
After 27 hours to 32 hours, 5mg of the initial 10mg dose would remain in your body.
After 54 hours to 64 hours, 2.5mg of the initial 10mg dose would remain in your body.
After 81 hours to 96 hours, 1.25mg of the initial 10mg dose would remain in your body.
This process continues, with your body gradually metabolizing and excreting Lexapro, until all of the medication is out of your system.
Research shows that it takes between four to five half-lives for the concentration of a medication to decline to a clinically irrelevant level, meaning it’s been eliminated from the body.
This means that, on average, it takes between 128 hours and 160 hours, or 5.3 to 6.7 days, for a dose of Lexapro to be fully processed by your body. Beyond this point, only tiny, clinically insignificant amounts of the medication will remain in your system.
With this said, a variety of factors may affect the average pace at which your body metabolizes and excretes Lexapro or other medications. These include:
Your age. Research shows that age can often play a role in medication half-life. If you are elderly, it may take your body longer or less time to metabolize and excrete each dose of Lexapro.
Your liver and kidney health. Lexapro, like many other medications, is processed by the liver and kidneys. If you have liver or kidney health issues, your body may need a longer amount of time to metabolize and excrete this medication.
If you’re prescribed Lexapro, you should not stop taking it without first talking to your healthcare provider.
Stopping Lexapro suddenly may cause a range of withdrawal symptoms that are often referred to as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. If you abruptly stop taking Lexapro or reduce your dose, you may experience symptoms, including — but not limited to — the following:
Paresthesias (abnormal sensations of the skin)
Stopping treatment with Lexapro may also cause your depression or anxiety symptoms to come back.
If you’re prescribed Lexapro and no longer want to continue taking it, it’s important that you talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes.
Your healthcare provider may recommend gradually lowering or tapering your dose of Lexapro over the course of several weeks or months. This may help to reduce your risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms or a relapse of depression or anxiety.
They may also suggest switching to a different type of antidepressant that’s better suited to your symptoms and needs.
Lexapro stays in your system for about six days, assuming you don’t have any liver or kidney issues that could affect your body’s ability to metabolize and excrete its active ingredient.
If you’re prescribed Lexapro for depression or anxiety, don’t stop taking it without first talking to your healthcare provider. They’ll be able to let you know how to stop using Lexapro without any withdrawal symptoms or other significant safety issues.
Escitalopram, the active ingredient in Lexapro, is one of the most common SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety. Our full guide to escitalopram goes into more detail about how it works, side effects, who it’s for and more.
Mary is an accomplished emergency and trauma RN with more than 10 years of healthcare experience.
As a data scientist with a Masters degree in Health Informatics and Data Analytics from Boston University, Mary uses healthcare data to inform individual and public health efforts.
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