Escitalopram is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant known by the brand name Lexapro. Because of Lexapro’s safety and effectiveness in relieving symptoms and elevating a patient’s mood, it’s one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for treating depression and anxiety. Doctors often prescribe escitalopram as the first line of treatment for patients newly diagnosed with major depression. But how does Lexapro work, what side effects should you be aware of and how long before you start feeling the benefits?
How Does Lexapro Work?
As an SSRI, Lexapro increases the levels of serotonin released into the brain by blocking the reuptake of it back into nerve endings. Serotonin is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter known to influence a person’s mood, sleep, memory, impulse control and sex drive. When you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, serotonin levels may be insufficient, which causes low mood.
What Lexapro does to your brain may help you feel more focused, increase your energy levels and relieve feelings of worthlessness and guilt. This medication can also help improve your mood and your sleep quality. If you’re suffering from anxiety, it can help lessen your feelings of nervousness, irritability and restlessness. For most people, Lexapro is effective when combined with talk therapies and other evidence-based mental health treatments.
How Long Does Lexapro Take to Work?
While some people experience the benefits from treatment with Lexapro within the first couple of weeks after starting treatment, for others it can take up to 8 weeks before feeling the full effects. If you don’t start seeing improvements within the first few weeks, your doctor might increase your dose or even change your antidepressant medication. It’s important you keep taking the medication as prescribed until your doctor can evaluate your symptoms.
Lexapro is approved by the FDA for treating depression and generalized anxiety disorder. It can effectively elevate mood, improve energy levels and make people more open to emotional regulation and talk therapies. Sometimes doctors prescribe escitalopram as an “off-label” treatment for mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety.
What Can Influence Lexapro’s Effectiveness?
Several factors can affect how well Lexapro works for you. It’s important to take this medication as your health care provider indicated, and you should let them know of any previous health conditions or medications you’ve taken. Some factors that may affect how well escitalopram works in relieving depression or negatively interact with it include:
- Medications such as other SSRIs, antianxiety medication, antipsychotic medications, blood thinners and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Supplements such as Saint-John’s-wort
- Health conditions that include seizures, glaucoma, liver or kidney disease and some heart conditions. It’s crucial to tell your mental health prescriber your medical history
For some people, Lexapro is more efficient when taken at night, while other patients experience better outcomes if they take it in the morning. However, it’s best to take it at around the same time each day and speak to your health care provider if you wish to change your dosage.
Doctors generally start new patients on a lower dose before upping it. In some cases, it will take a while before you’re on the correct dosage. However, people respond differently to antidepressants. If Lexapro doesn’t work for you, your prescriber might need to consider different treatment options. Don’t be discouraged if that happens. There’s often a trial-and-error process when it comes to any type of psychiatric treatment.
Potential Side Effects
For most people, Lexapro acts as prescribed with minimal to no side effects. However, like all other medications, it can cause unpleasant symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Most side effects usually subside after an adjustment period of 1 or 2 weeks, but those experiencing some of the more severe reactions should contact a health care professional as soon as possible. Your doctor might reduce your dose or, in some cases, change your medication entirely.
Some of the most common side effects that usually go away within the first week of treatment include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Feeling unusually tired
- Dry mouth
- Changes in appetite
- Muscle and joint aches
- Cold and flu-like symptoms
- Loss of interest in sex
- Inability to orgasm
You should contact your prescriber immediately if you experience any more serious adverse effects such as confusion, seizures, severe headaches or trouble breathing. While rare, some of the more severe side effects might require medical attention and, in some cases, even hospitalization.
Is Lexapro Addictive?
Lexapro isn’t considered a controlled substance in the United States, and the potential for abuse is very low. While you’re unlikely to experience Lexapro euphoria, there’s a risk of developing a physical dependence with long-term use. You should never stop taking this medication suddenly, as it increases the risk of withdrawal.
Withdrawal or discontinuation syndrome may affect around 20% of people who’ve been on antidepressants for at least 4 weeks. Symptoms of discontinuing SSRI medications are uncomfortable and can sometimes mimic a depression or an anxiety relapse. Some of the possible discontinuation symptoms include:
- Nausea, vomiting and heartburn
- Feeling dizzy
- Brain zaps (sensory disturbances that feel like an electric shock)
- Trouble sleeping and strange dreams
- Low mood
- Feelings of restlessness
It’s crucial to speak to your prescriber before you stop taking your medication. Coming off Lexapro should be a gradual process of lowering your dose, and it should be done under medical supervision to help minimize the risk of unpleasant withdrawal.
Lexapro is a potent antidepressant that’s been proven effective as a treatment for depression and anxiety. It’s from a class of drugs called SSRIs, a newer type of antidepressant that’s usually easier to tolerate and less likely to cause side effects. However, some side effects are to be expected, and it can take up to a month before you feel the full benefits of your treatment. Certain medications and health conditions can affect how well Lexapro works for you. You must work closely with your mental health provider and take this medication as prescribed to ensure optimum effectiveness.
If you’re experiencing struggles with your mental health and feel the need for support, the team of counselors and psychiatrists at Restore can help you lead a better life. Get in touch with us today and take the first step toward recovery.