An Overview of Lexapro for Mental Health Conditions

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Lexapro is the trademark name for the generic drug escitalopram, which is a type of antidepressant medication. It belongs to a group of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) that were first introduced in the 1980s. These medications are generally effective and have fewer side effects than some other antidepressants such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

conditions lexapro is used to treat
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Use of Lexapro

Lexapro was initially used only to treat depression. However, research showed that it was also effective for other mood disorders as well as anxiety disorders. While it is currently only approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), it is prescribed for many other conditions.

Doctors sometimes prescribe Lexapro off-label for illnesses such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), migraines, and chronic pain.

How It Works

It is not known exactly how Lexapro works to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, we know that this medication has an effect on serotonin, which is a brain neurotransmitter involved in mood, sleep, and other bodily functions. It is thought that by taking Lexapro, serotonin levels in the brain become more balanced. This helps to reduce anxiety and enhance mood.


Lexapro is an allosteric serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which differentiates it from other SSRIs. There is some evidence that it is more effective than a range of other antidepressants. It is often the first choice because of its efficacy and tolerability.

How to Take Lexapro

Follow your doctor's instructions for taking Lexapro. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about this medication.


You may take Lexapro as tablets or an oral solution once daily, in the morning or evening, with or without food. The usual recommended daily dosage of Lexapro is 10 mg, but you may begin at a lower dose. The dosage can be increased slowly if needed. Doses higher than 20 mg are not approved by the FDA. Staying within the recommended dose helps to reduce the risk of side effects or adverse reactions.

If you are experiencing the first episode of depression or anxiety, you may take Lexapro for a defined period such as between six months and one year. However, for individuals experiencing a chronic mental health condition, it may be necessary to take Lexapro for an extended period over many years.

Missed Doses

Missed doses should be taken as soon as you remember unless it is very close to your next dose, in which case you should take your regular dose instead. Never take two or more doses of Lexapro together at the same time. Taking your medication as prescribed will ensure that you experience its full effectiveness.

How Long It Takes to Work

It can take anywhere from one to four weeks to feel better once you start taking Lexapro, and you may not experience the full benefits of the medication until you've been following a recommended treatment plan for several months.

It's important to recognize that you will not experience immediate relief from taking Lexapro.

Side Effects

As your body adjusts to taking the medication, the side effects should gradually go away. If you notice that they are getting worse or are interfering with your quality of life, talk to your doctor about your concerns. Side effects can be minimized by carefully following the dosage directions given by your doctor and reporting any negative effects. Most common side effects are:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Lightheaded and faintness
  • Irritability and nervousness
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sweating
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Sexual side effects

Serious Side Effects/Allergic Reactions

Seek immediate help if you experience any of the following unusual side effects of Lexapro:

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Swelling of the face, mouth, or tongue
  • Fever
  • Stiff muscles
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Rash
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors


There are many precautions involved when taking Lexapro. You can reduce potential risks by being aware of who should not take this medication, potential medication interactions, and the black box warning.

Who Should Not Take Lexapro

Lexapro is not safe for everyone. Certain people should not take Lexapro, including:

  • People with allergies: You should not take Lexapro if you're hypersensitive to escitalopram oxalate, meaning that you have a known allergy to the medication and experience symptoms of allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing or swelling of the face, mouth, or tongue.
  • Children: The effectiveness of Lexapro in children younger than 18 years of age has not been established, and it's not generally recommended for kids under the age of 12.
  • People who are pregnant or breastfeeding: Use Lexapro with caution if you're pregnant or breastfeeding as the medication can be passed to your child. Your doctor should discuss this with you; if not, be sure to ask about potential risks.
  • Older adults: The side effects of the medication can be more severe in older adults. In this case, your doctor should monitor your dose and adjust as necessary to reduce the severity of side effects.

Medication Interactions

Caution should be used when taking Lexapro along with other medications. To help avoid any possible drug interactions, let your doctor know about any other prescription and over-the-counter medications you are currently taking.

Aspirin, warfarin, medication for seizures, anxiety, depression, or migraines, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) can interact with Lexapro and should be used with caution.

Lexapro should not be combined with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and only used with tryptophan, other SSRIs, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and St. John's wort with significant caution and close monitoring due to the potential for serotonin syndrome.

Avoid drinking alcohol when you are taking Lexapro, as it can reduce the effectiveness of the medication and also may increase its toxicity.

Black Box Warning

According to a black box warning (the strictest warning for prescription drugs issued by the FDA), taking Lexapro can result in an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, particularly in children, adolescents, and young adults. Close monitoring by your psychiatrist or doctor is important particularly if you are an adolescent or young adult taking Lexapro.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Stopping Lexapro

You should only discontinue taking Lexapro under the guidance of your doctor at an appropriate time (such as when symptoms have been stable for a certain period). If you stop taking it suddenly, you may notice withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, excessive nervousness, or flu-like symptoms. Instead, your doctor will help you to taper off the medication, so as to minimize any withdrawal effects.

If Lexapro is not effective for you, your doctor will work to find another medication that may help, such as another SSRI or a different class of antidepressant medication. You may also find psychotherapy helpful if that has not already been implemented.

A Word From Verywell

This overview of the use of Lexapro for mental health conditions does not cover every possible outcome of taking this medication. If you have been prescribed this medication by your doctor, be sure to follow the instructions carefully. If you have additional questions, they are best answered by a medical professional.

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Article Sources
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