Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/28/2020
Despite being relatively common, depression and other mental health issues carry a stigma.
Maybe you’re worried about being seen as emotionally weak, or wondering what people close to you will think if they find out you’re struggling.
It can be hard to ask for help when you’re suffering, but that difficult first step can change everything.
You don’t have to suffer with depression and anxiety. Drugs like escitalopram exist to help. It’s okay to admit you need that help. In fact, it’s a sign of strength to reach out.
That said, if you’ve decided to take the first step toward taking control of your mental health, here’s what you should know about escitalopram.
Escitalopram is a medication used to treat mood disorders. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the brand name version of escitalopram, Lexapro®, in 2002, specifically for use in the treatment of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Generic escitalopram was then approved in 2012, making it more affordable to get the drug.
Escitalopram is known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, a class of antidepressant drugs that affects chemicals in the brain.
SSRIs, as you might have guessed, primarily work on the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin is one of several hormones partly responsible for mood regulation. The Endocrine Society says when your serotonin levels are normal, you should feel emotionally stable, happy and calm. However, too little serotonin is associated with depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Escitalopram and other SSRIs work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin into neurons, leaving more of the feel-good chemical circulating in your body. This group of medications is called “selective” because they work on serotonin and not on other neurotransmitters, or chemicals.
The FDA has approved escitalopram for the treatment of major depressive disorder in adolescents and adults, and generalized anxiety disorder in adults.
It may also be prescribed for “off-label” use in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder.
Both major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are relatively common mental illnesses.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports 6.7 percent of the U.S. population is affected by major depressive disorder, while 3.1 percent is affected by generalized anxiety disorder.
However, not all of these people are receiving treatment.
You may already have spoken with your healthcare provider and received a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, but perhaps you’re reading up because you haven’t yet asked for medical advice. If you suspect you are battling one or both of these conditions, talking with a healthcare professional or mental health professional is a good first step.
Clinically, a major depressive episode implies prominent or persistent dysphoric or depressed moods that begin to interfere with your daily functioning, as well as include at least four of the following nine symptoms:
Loss of interest in day-to-day activities
Noticeably significant changes in appetite and/or weight
Psychomotor agitation or retardation
Altered thinking or a loss of concentration
Suicide ideation or attempt
Feeligns of worthlessness or guilt
Insomnia or hypersomnia
Generalized anxiety disorder may be clinically characterized by feelings of excessive worry and anxiety that you find difficult to control, which persist for at least six months. It must also be associated with at least three of these symptoms:
Being easily fagigued
Restlessness or feeling on edge
If you’re struggling with these symptoms and have suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. See the “How to Get Help Right Away” section at the bottom of this page for resources available to you 24/7.
Perhaps the most well-publicized risk of antidepressant medications is a possible increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior.
It’s counterintuitive that a medication designed to treat suicidal thoughts could actually make them worse. However, according to the FDA, this risk is only heightened in children and adolescents.
For adults over age 24, there is a lessened risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior. For people younger, the benefits of taking escitalopram must be balanced with this and other possible risks.
More common side effects of taking escitalopram or Lexapro, include:
Trouble sleeping or sleepiness/drowsiness
Decreased interest in sex or inability to obtain or keep an erection
These side effects do not require medical attention and may very well subside as your body gets used to the medication.
Slightly less common, but also not serious effects may include:
Pins and needles or tingling
Pain in the neck, shoulders and face
Sore throat or stuffy/runny nose
A general feeling of discomfort
Rare, serious side effects that warrant immediate medical attention include:
Confusion and dizziness
Shortness of breath
Nausea and vomiting
Swelling of the face, ankles or hands
Combining escitalopram with other medications can lead to additional complications. Make sure to tell your healthcare provider about all medications you take, to lessen these drug interaction risks.
It’s important to continue taking escitalopram even when you begin to feel better. Stopping this medication can lead to withdrawal symptoms, so if you decide to go off of escitalopram, your healthcare provider can help you gradually reduce your dosage to minimize these effects.
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