Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/25/2021
Over the last century, science has done an incredible job of developing new and effective treatments for a variety of illnesses and disorders, including those of the mind.
But if modern medicine has accomplished impressive feats in treating previously untreatable medical conditions, the truly incredible result has been that many of these medications have had multiple uses, and address multiple problems.
For instance, many treatments for erectile dysfunction started as hypertension medications. Likewise, many of the best anxiety medications were actually created for other purposes. Citalopram is one such medication.
Citalopram is a prescription drug often used for the treatment of anxiety, but it’s most frequently used to treat depressive disorders like major depression or seasonal affective disorder. Citalopram is the generic drug form of the brand-name drug Celexa®.
Citalopram is an antidepressant medication, and it’s part of the classification of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which help balance levels of serotonin in the brain.
SSRIs prevent the brain and its neurons from reducing the total available supply of serotonin by reabsorption, which means more remains readily available in the system for the processes you actually need serotonin for.
A larger volume of available serotonin can be an effective measure for treating depression symptoms, which scientists believe to be caused by imbalances in serotonin.
Like other SSRIs, citalopram is also effective in treating other disorders.
It can be used as treatment for a range of psychiatric disorders, including the likes of eating disorders and alcoholism, as well as panic disorders and anxiety.
This sort of double duty is a common trait among many SSRIs; while SSRIs aren’t primarily designed for non-depression treatments, many are label validated by the FDA for treatment of things like anxiety disorders.
As antidepressants go, citalopram is an effective treatment for depression in adults, according to several peer reviewed studies.
Research has also shown that citalopram is safe and effective, for both depression and anxiety treatments.
Citalopram, like most antidepressants, is an oral medication. To be most effective, it needs to be taken regularly, and at the prescribed intervals — this is also important in order to avoid some common antidepressant side effects.
Citalopram can typically be taken as a once-a-day tablet, but it can also be prescribed as a liquid.
There are no recommendations regarding whether it should be taken with or without food, but building the right concentrations in your system means taking it at the same time every day.
With citalopram, it may take between one and four weeks to see results, and it’s important to keep taking at the prescribed times, even when you feel generally good.
Taking it less often can cause withdrawal syndrome, and with citalopram, withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, confusion, headaches, numbness, tingling, nausea and sweating.
How long you stay on citalopram will depend on a variety of factors, such as your depression symptoms.
If you do need to go off of this medication, your healthcare provider will help you wean off by prescribing lower doses, gradually reducing your risk dependency.
The good news is that citalopram is largely considered safe and effective to use, but that does not mean it’s without potential adverse effects.
Most of citalopram’s common side effects go away during the first few weeks of use, but you should contact your health care provider if you experience constipation, stomach pain, heartburn, nausea, frequent urination, dry mouth, joint pain, diarrhea, decreased appetite or weightloss, sexual side effects like changes in sex drive or excessive tiredness.
You should seek immediate medical attention for chest pain or shortness of breath, as well as dizziness, irregular heartbeat or abnormal heart rhythm, fever, hallucinations or fainting.
Consult your healthcare provider if you experience loss of coordination, or twitching muscles, or if you get hives, blisters, facial swelling, or experience cognitive issues.
A quick note: while citalopram doesn’t have many prescription drug interaction conflicts to be aware of, it should be noted that anyone taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) should inform their healthcare provider before taking citalopram, as taking these two together could increase your risk of experiencing serotonin syndrome.
Symptoms of serotonin syndrome in this case could include autonomic instability, mental status changes, include rigidity, hyperthermia and coma.
You should also inform your healthcare provider if you’ve ever been diagnosed with or have experienced any of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. In people suffering from bipolar disorder, citalopram and other SSRIs have been shown to induce serious side effects like inducing mania or other manic episodes.
Thinking citalopram might be right for you? The good news is that it’s available to be prescribed via a variety of primary and psychiatric healthcare providers.
It’s important to share that citalopram won’t be an overnight miracle cure, and your individual dosage might require some tailoring, so it could take time to find the right treatment for you.
A healthcare professional will typically start with lower doses, increasing yours gradually until they find the right one — if you need to go off the medication, they will likewise reduce your dose gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
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 prescribed at a variety of dosage levels — from 10mg to a maximum dose of 40mg daily — but a maximum effective dose can be prescribed higher than 40mg, depending on what’s being treated.
Citalopram may sound great, but remember that it is just one of many treatment options available to you if you’re experiencing anxiety or panic disorder, depressive disorder, or a variety of other conditions.
In addition to other antidepressant medications, a healthcare professional might also suggest counseling, meditation, lifestyle changes, and other changes to help you treat your mental health, based on your unique medical history.
Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders can be taxing, physically and mentally. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unmotivated, feel constantly tense, irritable, distant or unavailable to loved ones, help is available to you.
There are mental health resources available to you to get things started.
Start by connecting with a mental health professional for an online psychiatry evaluation.