Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/10/2022
If you’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder or a form of anxiety, your mental health provider may prescribe the medication Lexapro®.
Lexapro is an antidepressant that can improve your mood and make symptoms of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health issues less severe, helping you to focus on recovery and enjoy a higher quality of life.
Many antidepressants are associated with changes in weight, and Lexapro is no exception. For some people, Lexapro can cause weight loss, while for others, it may cause an increase in food intake and weight gain.
Below, we’ve covered what Lexapro is, as well as why your mental health provider may suggest using this medication.
We’ve also looked at the potential links between Lexapro and weight loss, weight gain and other changes in your appetite, eating habits and body composition.
Finally, we’ve explained how you can maintain a stable, healthy weight while you take Lexapro or similar antidepressant medications.
Lexapro, which contains the active ingredient escitalopram, is an antidepressant that belongs to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It’s available as a brand name medication and in generic form as escitalopram.
Currently, Lexapro is approved by the FDA as a treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) in adults.
Like many other medications, Lexapro is also used off-label (i.e., for non-FDA-approved uses) to treat other conditions, includingsocial anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s also used to treat some vasomotor symptoms (i.e., symptoms caused by fluctuations in the diameter of the blood vessels) that can develop during menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats and changes in blood pressure levels.
We have a blog specifically on Lexapro and night sweats if you'd like to learn more.
Your mental health provider may recommend using Lexapro if you’ve been diagnosed with any of the conditions above.
As an SSRI, Lexapro works by modifying levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in your brain and body. Serotonin plays a key role in regulating your moods, including feelings of happiness and anxiety. Research suggests that low levels of serotonin are associated with depression.
Like other antidepressants, the effects of Lexapro aren’t immediate. It can take several weeks to begin working, and it may take one month or longer for the full mental health benefits of Lexapro medication to become apparent.
Our guide to Lexapro and generic escitalopram goes into more detail about how Lexapro works, its potential benefits, common dosages, side effects and more.
SSRIs such as Lexapro belong to a modern class of antidepressants, most of which came onto the market in the late 1980s to the 1990s, respectively. These replaced older medications for depression, many of which were well known for causing significant side effects.
Although Lexapro and other SSRIs are usually less likely to cause side effects than monoamine oxidase inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants and other older drugs, they can still potentially cause issues, one of which may be a change in your appetite and weight.
In general, antidepressants are more commonly associated with an elevated risk of weight gain than undesired weight loss. For example, a large-scale cohort study from the UK found that the risk of weight gain was slightly higher in people who used antidepressants than their peers.
However, not all antidepressants are equally likely to cause weight gain, and some are linked to weight loss in certain groups of people.
For example, another study published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology in 2011 compared the effects of escitalopram and nortriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant, on the body weight of people undergoing treatment for moderate-to-severe major depression.
The researchers found that while nortriptyline was associated with moderate weight gain over a period of six months, the people who were treated with escitalopram only gained 0.14kg (under a third of a pound) over the same period of time.
Because of its mild effects on weight, the researchers concluded that escitalopram is a suitable option for people with depression at risk of weight gain.
A separate study of escitalopram found that it helped to reduce weight and lower the severity of symptoms in people with binge-eating disorder (BED) and obesity. However, it’s not clear if the same effects occur in people without eating disorders.
Overall, escitalopram’s effects on body weight appear to be mild. In some research, it’s linked to a tiny increase in average body weight in people with depression, while other research suggests that it may help to promote weight loss in people who are overweight or obese.
In addition to potentially affecting your appetite, eating habits and weight, Lexapro and similar antidepressants may also cause other side effects. Most potential side effects of Lexapro are mild, and many improve gradually as your body adjusts to the medication.
Common side effects of Lexapro include:
Lexapro can also cause sexual side effects, including a reduced level of interest in having sex and either difficulty reaching orgasm or delayed orgasm during sexual activity.
Men who use Lexapro may also develop other forms of sexual dysfunction, including difficulty ejaculating even with significant sexual stimulation.
Lexapro may also cause other adverse effects, including some that may affect your wellbeing and quality of life. It can also interact with other medications, potentially resulting in symptoms such as serotonin syndrome.
To reduce your risk of developing side effects or drug interactions, it’s important to inform your healthcare provider about your medical history and your current or recent use of any drugs or dietary supplements before using Lexapro.
Our guide to Lexapro side effects includes a more detailed list of side effects and safety issues that you should be aware of before using Lexapro to treat depression or anxiety.
Although antidepressants like Lexapro are often linked to changes in weight, it’s still possible to avoid any unwanted decrease or increase in weight while using antidepressants by maintaining the right habits.
Try the following habits, lifestyle changes and techniques to maintain a stable weight while you use Lexapro:
Understand that small weight fluctuations are normal. If you’ve recently started to take Lexapro, it’s easy to get concerned when you get on the scale and see that you’re several pounds lighter or heavier than normal.
Try to remember that it’s common and very normal for your weight to fluctuate by a few pounds on a daily basis, usually due to your food and fluids intake. Focus on long-term weight change, not short-term fluctuations.
Keep yourself physically active. If you experience weight gain while using Lexapro to treat depression or any other condition, try increasing your physical activity level to burn more calories.
Not only can regular exercise help you to maintain your weight — it can also reduce the severity of depression symptoms by promoting the release of endorphins and improving your brain function.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Both depression itself and the effects of antidepressants can change your appetite and eating habits, causing you to eat less and lose weight or eat more and gain weight.
Even when you’re feeling depressed or anxious, try to maintain a balanced, healthy diet most of the time. Occasional cheat meals are fine, but it’s best to build most of your diet around healthy, nutrient-rich foods.
Adjust your food intake to maintain your target weight. If you’re beginning to lose or gain too much weight while using Lexapro, try adjusting your calorie intake to bring your body weight up or down towards your optimal weight.
The National Institutes of Health has a body weight planner that you can use to calculate your target food intake based on your optimal weight, age, height and activity level.
If you find it hard to control your diet, talk to your healthcare provider. Many people with depression experience changes in their appetite and weight, such as weight gain or loss. Some medications for depression may also contribute to these issues.
If you find it difficult to eat a normal amount while using Lexapro, don’t hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider. They may recommend adjusting your dosage or switching to a different type of medication.
It’s far from uncommon for your weight to change when you’re depressed or anxious, either as a result of changes in your eating habits caused by depression or anxiety or as a side effect of the medication you’re prescribed.
For the most part, research suggests that any changes in your body composition or weight loss from Lexapro are mild, especially when compared to older antidepressants.
If you currently use Lexapro and think it could be affecting your appetite and weight, it’s best to talk to your mental health provider. You can also connect with a licensed provider online via our depression medication online for an evaluation and, if appropriate, doctor-trusted medication.
Need more help overcoming depression? Our guide to dealing with depression goes over your options for seeking help and feeling better, while our free online mental health resources share effective strategies that you can use to make progress at your own pace.