Lexapro is commonly used for the treatment of anxiety disorders because of its effectiveness and side effect profile. It is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant, meaning that it helps regulate serotonin production and reuptake, which can potentially improve anxiety symptoms.
Risk of Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors in Certain People
Escitalopram, the active ingredient in Lexapro, has a black box warning. These are the most serious types of warnings from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Escitalopram can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children, adolescents, and young adults. Regardless of your age, you should talk with your doctor about serious risks with escitalopram and any other medications before starting treatment.
What Is Lexapro?
Lexapro is an FDA-approved medication for depression but is also approved to treat generalized anxiety.2 Escitalopram, is the active ingredient and generic medication for Lexapro. It may also be prescribed off-label to treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and social anxiety disorder.2 Off-label use is when a medication is prescribed for a reason that is not FDA-approved because your doctor believes it could be beneficial. Consult your doctor to understand the risks associated with Lexapro for any use.
If you take Lexapro for anxiety, the medication may improve your energy, mood, and emotions. However, the drug is also associated with side effects that may cause nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and headaches. These side effects are less severe, usually not requiring immediate medical attention. However, if the side effects worsen, seek medical assistance as soon as possible. Lexapro is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medication approved to be used for certain conditions in adults, children over 12 years, and adolescents, under a doctor’s guidance due to risks of suicidal thoughts and behaviors and other health complications.1
Why Is Lexapro Used to Treat Anxiety Disorders?
Lexapro has been shown to improve anxiety symptoms. While the medication does not cure anxiety, it works best as part of comprehensive anxiety treatment. Lexapro can be effective at reducing the symptoms of anxiety, and it may be especially helpful for multiple types of anxiety disorder, including:
- Specific phobias (off-label)
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) (FDA-approved)
- Panic attacks (off-label)
- Panic disorders (off-label)
- Social anxiety disorder (off-label)
Lexapro can be prescribed for both on-label and off-label uses for certain mental health conditions. Off-label use is when a medication is prescribed for a reason that is not FDA-approved because your doctor believes it could be beneficial. Your doctor may recommend Lexapro over other anxiety medications based on several factors, including the type of anxiety you suffer from, the medication’s side effects, efficacy, and treatment duration.
How Does Lexapro Help With Anxiety?
Lexapro belongs to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) class of drugs that regulate the brain’s serotonin levels. 3 Lexapro alters brain chemistry resulting in an increasing level of serotonin in the brain. This helps to influence your mood, emotions, and behaviors and reduce anxiety symptoms. Lexapro may also work for other mental health disorders, including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.2
While taking Lexapro for anxiety, you may experience less anxiety and panic attacks. The medication may also help improve your mood, sleep, and emotions. You may also have improved energy levels. However, like other medications, Lexapro can also have side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. The side effects result from your body adjusting to the medication.
How to Take Lexapro for Anxiety
Lexapro contains the active medication escitalopram and comes in multiple forms: tablets or as an oral solution. The medication should be taken once a day with or without food.1 Like any other medication, Lexapro for anxiety should be taken as prescribed by your physician. This means you should not take the drug without your doctor’s advice, as the medication is associated with life-threatening side effects.
Lexapro Dosage For Anxiety
When prescribing Lexapro for anxiety, your doctor will consider several factors, including the nature of the type of anxiety disorder and your health condition. Also, your doctor may start you off on a smaller dosage to see how it works for you.
The recommended dosage of Lexapro for generalized anxiety in adults is 10 mg once daily, with a maximum of 10 mg once daily. Take the dosage recommended by your doctor to improve your safety on the medication and to reduce the risks of Lexapro discontinuation syndrome and dependence on the medication.1,2
Can You Overdose on Lexapro?
It is possible to overdose on Lexapro if you take higher amounts of the medication than the recommended maximum level. This can have serious side effects leading to increased toxicity levels and even sudden death due to vital organ failure. Symptoms of Lexapro overdose include hallucinations, severe headaches, and drowsiness. Additionally, using Lexapro for anxiety creates a higher risk of overdose. If you suspect you have overdosed on Lexapro, call the 9-1-1 emergency number or visit the nearest hospital facility as soon as possible.
How Long Does it Take Lexapro to Work For Anxiety?
Antidepressants take some time to work at first. Many antidepressants, including Lexapro, can take around 2 to 6 weeks to start having an impact on anxiety symptoms. The time it will take for anyone to feel improvement in their symptoms will vary based on their health history, the symptoms they are experiencing, and the way the medication makes them feel.4
Side Effects of Lexapro While Treating Anxiety
You may experience mild side effects from Lexapro within the first or second week of your initial medication, such as fatigue and headaches.1 Sexual side effects from Lexapro may develop for some people. Side effects that may occur are due to the direct action of the medication and mild symptoms do not require immediate medical attention.
It is also possible to experience serious side effects which may need immediate medical attention. In extreme cases, serious side effects can be life-threatening.1
Common Lexapro side effects include:1,2
- Sexual problems
- Increased sweating
- Weight changes
- Appetite issues
- Dry mouth
Serious Lexapro side effects that need immediate attention include:1,2
- Serotonin syndrome
- Low salt levels
- Manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder
- Vision problems
- Anxiety symptoms
- Discontinuation syndrome
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Excessive bleeding
Taking Lexapro for an extended period can lead to dependence resulting in misuse. This will likely make the drug less effective for worsening your anxiety symptoms. You are likely to have noticeable symptoms such as hallucinations and persistent headaches. If the medication does not work for you, talk with your doctor about other Lexapro alternatives.
Other Substances to Avoid If You’re Taking Lexapro
Disclaimer: Taking certain medications, herbs, or supplements alongside Lexapro can change how Lexapro works in your body or increase the risk for serious side effects. This article does not consider all the possible interactions. Please let your doctor, psychiatrists, and pharmacists know about all the products you currently use, such as prescription medication, nonprescription drugs, and herbal supplements. Do not start, stop, or change the dosage of any medicines without your doctor’s approval.
While most antidepressants or anxiety medications may work the same way to relieve anxiety symptoms, they have varying chemical makeup. The same applies to Lexapro as its chemical composition can negatively react with other medications, substances like alcohol, or dietary supplements like St John’s Wort. Therefore, it’s important not to mix Lexapro with other anxiety medications such as Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft. These medications have side effects, and their interaction with Lexapro will trigger individual side effects worsening your condition.
Some substances that interact with Lexapro include:1
- Blood thinners
- Non-Steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Water pills
- Other anxiety medications
- Migraine drugs
- St John’s Wort
- Medication for stomach
Warnings & Associated Risks of Taking Lexapro for Anxiety
While Lexapro can be an effective medication for relieving anxiety symptoms, its use in certain groups is more limited. Doctors do not prescribe the medication for children and taking antidepressants and anxiety medication while pregnant requires additional consideration due to potential risks. 1,5
Taking escitalopram while breastfeeding increases the risk of medication exposure to infants due to its presence in breast milk and can result in irritability or restlessness in breastfed babies. Also, taking Lexapro with alcohol can be dangerous to your health. Both substances have individual side effects, and their interactions can trigger their side effects, making your condition even worse.6
As with every medication, Lexapro should be administered as prescribed. Taking smaller or higher amounts of the medication puts you at risk of antidepressant withdrawal symptoms and serotonin syndrome. First, stopping your medication abruptly without proper guidance from your prescriber can result in Lexapro withdrawal symptoms accompanied by persistent headache and dizziness. Second, taking a higher amount of Lexapro increases serotonin levels in the body, increasing the risk of serotonin syndrome.
Questions to Ask Your Health Team About Taking Lexapro For Anxiety
Before starting any medication, it’s paramount to discuss with your doctor the benefits and risks of the medication. This will help your doctor determine if Lexapro is the best medication for you and help reduce your risks while taking the medication. You can ask questions like if Lexapro can be used with other anxiety medications or how long its side effects last.
Questions to ask your care team about whether Lexapro is right for you include:
- Would Lexapro be effective in treating my anxiety?
- Is Lexapro more effective at treating anxiety than the medication I am already taking?
- Can I take Lexapro with the medication I am already taking?
- Will I need to change my anxiety medications if I start taking Lexapro?
- Are there better medication options besides Lexapro to help treat my anxiety?
- What are the best online psychiatry options to get prescribed Lexapro for anxiety?
- What should I do if the medication does not work for me?
- How long do Lexapro side effects last?
- How will the medication make me feel after my initial dosage?
- Can I take alcohol while on Lexapro medication?
- I skipped my medication and resumed the following day. Should I be concerned?
- How often should I come for checkups?
Lexapro can be an effective treatment for anxiety, especially when taken along with therapy. The medication is also associated with side effects that can be mild or severe. Also, its interaction with other medications, substances, or dietary supplements can be life-threatening. Before taking Lexapro, discuss a treatment plan with your doctor and care team to see if it’s the right option.
For Further Reading
- How to Get Antidepressants: Everything You Need to Know
- How to Get Anxiety Medication: Everything You Need to Know
- 14 Best Anxiety Podcasts
- 14 Best Books for Social Anxiety
- 15 Best Anxiety Blogs
- 15 YouTube Channels for Anxiety
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