Escitalopram: 7 things you should know
Medically reviewed by C. Fookes, BPharm Last updated on Sep 1, 2019.
1. How it works
- Escitalopram may be used for the treatment of anxiety and depression. Experts aren't sure exactly how it works although research suggests it increases levels of serotonin in the brain by preventing the reuptake of serotonin by nerves, leading to an increase in serotonin concentrations within the nerve synapse (the space between two nerves).
- Escitalopram belongs to a group of medications known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).
- Used to relieve depression and anxiety in adults.
- May also be used to treat depression in teenagers aged 12 through 17.
- Less likely to cause drowsiness than some other antidepressants.
- Has also been used off-label for other conditions such as panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- SSRIs are, in general, better tolerated than many other medicines used in the treatment of depression.
- May be more effective with less adverse effects than other SSRIs.
- Generic escitalopram is available.
If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, take no other medication or have no other medical conditions, side effects you are more likely to experience include:
- Drowsiness or insomnia, diarrhea, headache, sexual dysfunction, and nausea. Side effects are generally mild and transient, and more common during the first two weeks of treatment.
- Dizziness, fatigue, constipation, indigestion, dry mouth and increased sweating may also occur.
- An increased risk of suicidal thoughts, especially in young adults (similar to other antidepressants).
- A discontinuation syndrome if abruptly stopped or interrupted (symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, sweating, chills, tremors, vivid dreams, and insomnia); taper off dosage slowly over several weeks to months.
- May impair your judgment and affect your ability to drive or operate machinery. Avoid alcohol.
- Interaction or overdosage may cause serotonin syndrome (symptoms include mental status changes [such as agitation, hallucinations, coma, delirium]), fast heart rate, dizziness, flushing, muscle tremor or rigidity and stomach symptoms (including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea). Another serious syndrome called Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome has also been reported; symptoms include high body temperature, muscle rigidity, and mental disturbances; discontinue immediately and seek urgent medical advice.
- May increase the risk of bleeding, especially if used with other drugs that also increase bleeding risk.
- May precipitate a manic episode in people with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
- May cause a lowering of total body sodium (called hyponatremia); elderly people or people taking diuretics or already dehydrated may be more at risk.
- May not be suitable for some people including those with liver or kidney disease or glaucoma.
- The risk of interactions may be less than with other antidepressants.
Notes: In general, seniors or children, people with certain medical conditions (such as liver or kidney problems, heart disease, diabetes, seizures) or people who take other medications are more at risk of developing a wider range of side effects. For a complete list of all side effects, click here.
- Take once a day in the morning or evening, with or without food. Do not increase the dosage of escitalopram without your doctor's advice.
- Escitalopram should make up one component of a total treatment plan for depression or anxiety that includes other nondrug components such as counseling, education, and social support.
- Report to your doctor any mood changes such as agitation or greatly increased energy, worsening depression, or suicidal thoughts. Also, monitor for serotonin syndrome; symptoms include agitation, hallucinations, coma, fast heart rate, dizziness, flushing, muscle tremor or rigidity and stomach symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea).
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any other medications with escitalopram, including NSAIDs or St. John's Wort as these may interact.
- Talk with your doctor if you notice it takes longer than normal for cuts to stop bleeding. Also, discuss any persistent headaches or episodes of weakness or confusion.
- Report any changes in vision, redness or swelling around the eye or eye pain.
- Do not stop suddenly as withdrawal symptoms may occur.
- Even though escitalopram is unlikely to cause drowsiness, be cautious driving or operating machinery until you know how this drug affects you. Alcohol may potentiate these effects.
6. Response and Effectiveness
- Escitalopram is the active isomer of citalopram. Peak blood levels are reached approximately 5 hours after a dose but it may take up to a week for levels to become stabilized in the body. Improvement in depressive or anxiety symptoms may not be noticed for 1-4 weeks. Treatment should be continued as directed even after improvement.
Medicines that interact with escitalopram may either decrease its effect, affect how long it works for, increase side effects, or have less of an effect when taken with escitalopram. An interaction between two medications does not always mean that you must stop taking one of the medications; however, sometimes it does. Speak to your doctor about how drug interactions should be managed.
Common medications that may interact with escitalopram include:
- anti-anxiety medications such as lorazepam
- antipsychotics such as lithium and thioridazine
- aspirin and other NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, diclofenac, and naproxen
- indigestion remedies, such as cimetidine
- migraine medications such as eletriptan, rizatriptan, or zolmitriptan
- monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), such as isocarboxazid, phenelzine, or selegiline
- other antidepressants, such as amitriptyline and desipramine
- other SSRIs, such as citalopram or fluoxetine
- sleeping pills such as triazolam or zopiclone
- some antibiotics such as linezolid
- some antifungals such as ketoconazole
- some diabetes medications such as pioglitazone and rosiglitazone
- St John's Wort
- warfarin and other anticoagulants
- other medications that may thin the blood,
Note that this list is not all-inclusive and includes only common medications that may interact with escitalopram. You should refer to the prescribing information for escitalopram for a complete list of interactions.
Escitalopram [Package Insert]. Revised 03/2019. Drugs.com https://www.drugs.com/escitalopram.html
Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use escitalopram only for the indication prescribed.
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- Drug class: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
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Other brands: Lexapro