Depression and anxiety are two very common mental health problems that affect millions of people from all walks of life. No one is exempt from feeling anxious or depressed. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the US, affecting 40 million people, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). People with anxiety disorders may also struggle with depression. Major depressive disorder affects more than 16 million people and is the leading cause of disability for individuals ages 15 to 44. Yet, very few of these people seek treatment for either mental health disorder.
There are many medications and therapy options for those who seek relief from the symptoms of anxiety or depression. Escitaloprám is one medication that can ease symptoms. The medicine is effective for most people, but it does produce some side effects, such as headaches, insomnia, and anxiety. Keep reading to learn more about this drug, its side effects, and how to manage them.
What Is Escitalopram?
Escitalopram, better known by its brand name Lexapro, is a prescription anti-depressant medication. Medicine of this kind may also be prescribed to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and excessive worry and tension that disrupts life for up to six months or longer. Escitalopram falls under the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) class of drugs. Medline Plus states that it works to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a natural substance in the brain that helps maintain mental balance.
It may take up to 12 weeks before you feel the beneficial effects of escitalopram. Some people may experience relief from the symptoms of anxiety or depression sooner. It is possible to feel the side effects of the drug before you feel it working to alleviate anxiety or depression.
Escitalopram is considered a first-choice treatment for GAD and anxiety that occurs with depression, according to GoodRx. The reputable medicine site also notes that it may lower the likelihood of depression coming back, has fewer drug interactions, and fewer side effects than similar drugs.
Escitalopram is a suitable medication for most people, but it has some side effects to know. Almost all of these will diminish in time, except for the sexually related ones.
Common Side Effects
- Dry mouth
- Increased sweating
- Feeling restless or nervous (anxious)
- Problems reaching orgasm or ejaculatory delay
Serious Side Effects (Rare)
Escitalopram also has some serious but usually rare side effects you should be aware of, such as:
- Low sodium levels (headache, weakness, trouble concentrating, and memory problems are symptoms of this)
- Grinding teeth
- Eye pain, changes in vision, swelling/redness in or around the eye (symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma)
- Serotonin syndrome (shivering, confusion, diarrhea, fever, severe muscle tightness, confusion, seizures, and death if not treated)
Generally, escitalopram is not bad for you.
Escitalopram and Pregnancy
Pregnant women should always talk to their doctor before taking escitalopram or Lexapro. If you are in your second or third trimester, there is a risk the baby can be born before it is fully developed, as the National Alliance on Mental Health indicates on its page about mental health medications.
It also states that SSRIs, like escitalopram, appear to have a less than 1 percent chance of infants developing persistent pulmonary hypertension (a breathing condition in newborns in which the lung vessels are not open wide enough so that oxygen and blood flow is restricted.) This is a possibly fatal condition that can cause the baby’s skin to turn blue and is associated with the use of the drug in the second half of pregnancy.
It is vital to inform you, though, that women who discontinue antidepressant use are five times more likely to have a relapse in depression than those who continue using an antidepressant. If you are using escitalopram during pregnancy and have concerns, please reach out to your obstetrician.
Long-Term Use Effects
If you are concerned about the effects of using escitalopram long-term, it’s a good idea to know what the potential effects could be. The most commonly mentioned effects, noted by Verywell Mind are:
- Sexual problems
- Weight gain
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Not feeling like themselves
- Reduced positive feelings
- Feeling like they are addicted to the drug
- Caring less about others
- Feeling suicidal
Tolerance of escitalopram may also develop when taking the drug for an extended time. Tolerance is when your body does not respond to the medicine as it once did. This might compel some individuals to take more of the drug so that they can feel its effects. If you were to stop taking escitalopram abruptly, you would likely start to have some withdrawal symptoms, which is an indication of chemical dependence in your body, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Escitalopram and Interactions with Other Drugs
Many drugs interact with escitalopram. The Drugs.com website says that 247 substances have a major drug interaction with escitalopram, 354 have a moderate interaction, and 45 have a minor interaction.
Adderall, Seroquel, tramadol, and trazodone are among the drugs that might cause a major drug interaction. Some with moderate interactions are Abilify, Ambien, clonazepam, aspirin, gabapentin, Xanax, and Zyrtec.
As always, please consult with the doctor who prescribed escitalopram before taking this medication with any herbal supplements or other drugs.
Escitalopram Withdrawal: What to Know
Escitalopram and its brand name Lexapro affect how the brain functions. SSRIs increase serotonin, which controls happiness and the feeling of reward. If taking this medicine for a long time, the brain shuts down different receptors to prevent overstimulation. If you stop taking the escitalopram, your body will need time to adjust, and the amount of serotonin might decrease and need time to replenish naturally. It is within this time that you could experience withdrawal symptoms.
A 2012 study noted that withdrawal symptoms happen in two stages:
Stage 1 symptoms
- Feeling tingling throughout the body
Stage 2 symptoms
- Increased anxiety
- Weight changes
- Sexual side effects
- Trouble tolerating or managing stress
- Mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
Withdrawal from escitalopram may last for a few weeks or longer, and the intensity of symptoms depends on various factors, such as how long you’ve been on escitalopram, how high your last dose taken was, if you quit taking it suddenly, or tapered off it.
Coping with escitalopram withdrawal symptoms should include these helpful suggestions:
- Eat a nutritious and healthful diet.
- Add more exercise to your day and keep at it regularly.
- Take any other medications prescribed for you according to directions.
- Participate in talk therapy.
- Track mood changes.
- Reach out and ask for help when you need it from family, friends, and others.
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