Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 6/12/2021
Anxiety can be a tricky condition to treat—in part, because most of us don’t know what to look for.
Many anxiety sufferers (some of us included) know that in some cases, learning you even have anxiety might be a shock.
Movies and TV shows would have you believe that anxiety and its symptoms are loud, performative, paper-bag-clutching experiences, but in reality, anxiety is typically an internal struggle, resulting in tightness in the chest, irritability and sleep loss.
Getting treated for anxiety can be a multifaceted process, but luckily science has created some effective medications to go along with other forms of treatment.
Many of the best anxiety medications however, were actually created for other purposes. Citalopram is one such medication.
If a healthcare professional has prescribed you citalopram for anxiety, here’s what you need to know.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are a group of conditions representing intense feelings of anxiety, unease, or panic.
In many cases, these disorders can have overlapping symptoms.
For example, anxiety sufferers may experience occasional panic, and panic sufferers may experience anxiety.
Typically, anxiety symptoms must be felt for at least a few weeks to qualify as a disorder—and in some cases (like with a chronic anxiety diagnosis) they must be ongoing for longer.
Anxiety symptoms include restlessness, feeling on edge or wound-up, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, irritability , muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, and uncontrollable worry.
If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, know you’re not alone. More than 30 percent of American adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in life.
So where does citalopram come in? The best answer to that question is through the side door.
Citalopram for anxiety wasn’t always for anxiety. In fact, it’s a medication used mostly to treat depression.
It’s part of the classification of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that help the brain balance serotonin levels.
To put it simply, SSRIs prevent the brain’s components from reducing the available supply of serotonin, which means more remains in the system for the stuff you need serotonin for.
This can be really effective for treating depression, which is thought to be caused by serotonin imbalances.
Some SSRIs are also known for being effective in treating other disorders, and citalopram is no different.
It can be prescribed to treat a range of conditions, from things like eating disorders and alcoholism, to panic disorders and anxiety.
It should be noted that while SSRIs aren’t primarily designed for this kind of job, many of them are label validated by the FDA to treat other conditions, commonly including anxiety disorders.
Studies have shown that citalopram is among the more effective drugs on the market for treating depression.
Research has also proven that the medication is safe and effective, both for depression and anxiety treatment.
As with most SSRIs on the market, citalopram is an oral medication that needs to be taken regularly at the prescribed intervals to be most effective—and to avoid side effects.
Citalopram is typically taken orally as a once-a-day tablet or liquid.
It can be consumed with or without food, but to build the right concentrations in your system it should be taken at the same time every day.
It may be between one and four weeks before you see results with citalopram, and you should keep taking it even when you feel generally good.
Citalopram withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant—and include effects like numbness, tingling, anxiety, confusion, headaches, nausea and sweating.
A healthcare professional will likely help you wean off gradually if you need to stop taking the medication, likely prescribing lowered doses to be taken at regular intervals.
The good news is that citalopram is largely considered safe and effective to use, but that does not mean it’s without potential side effects.
While many citalopram side effects go away during the first few weeks of use, it’s a problem if they don’t.
Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms: nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, heartburn, decreased appetite or weightloss, frequent urination, dry mouth, joint pain, changes in sex drive or excessive tiredness.
Seek immediate medical attention if you experience chest pain or shortness of breath, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, fever, fainting or hallucinations.
It’s also wise to consult your healthcare provider if you experience problems like loss of coordination, twitching muscles, hives, blisters, facial swelling, or cognitive issues.
If you’re convinced citalopram may be right for you or if it’s already been prescribed, the good news is it’s available via a variety of healthcare providers—both primary care and psychiatric.
It’s important to note that citalopram for anxiety isn’t an overnight miracle cure, and your dosage might require some tailoring.
Depending on your particular needs, a healthcare professional may prescribe citalopram at a variety of dosage levels, but typically they will start with lower doses and increase gradually until they find the right one for you.
This can sometimes warrant a bit of patience: SSRIs can typically take as many as 12 weeks to show full benefits, which means that getting your ideal balance could take two or three times that amount of time.
Citalopram can be taken at a variety of dosage levels between 10 and 60 mg, but it is typically prescribed no higher than 20 mg, as many groups including the elderly can experience additional side effects above that level.
Citalopram is just one of many treatment options that might benefit you if you’re experiencing anxiety.
You may also experience relief with counseling, meditation, lifestyle changes and communicating more with loved ones, too.
Anxiety can be taxing, but you don’t have to feel stuck in it. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, constantly tense, irritable, distant, or unavailable to loved ones, know it’s possible to have help.
You can also start by connecting with a mental health professional to get an online psychiatry evaluation, personalized advice, counseling and potentially, medication.