If you have depression or generalized anxiety disorder, your doctor may want to give you Lexapro. This drug can be very effective in treating either condition. But like all drugs, it may cause side effects. Some of these may only be bothersome, while others may be severe and impact your health.
Learning about the side effects can help you decide if the drug is right for you. Here’s an overview of the side effects Lexapro can cause.
What is Lexapro?
Lexapro is a prescription drug. It’s available as an oral tablet and an oral liquid solution. It’s approved for use in adults and children 12 years and older.
The medication belongs to the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It works by increasing the amount of the chemical serotonin in your brain. Having more serotonin helps decrease the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Lexapro is not considered a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). MAOIs work by slowing down the breakdown of serotonin and dopamine, another chemical in your brain. This also helps alleviate symptoms of depression. However, MAOIs have a higher risk of side effects and drug interactions than SSRIs such as Lexapro.
Side effects of Lexapro
SSRIs, including Lexapro, are tolerated well compared to other types of antidepressants. In general, you may have more side effects if you take a higher dosage of the drug. At a high dosage, Lexapro is more likely to cause gastrointestinal side effects, such as diarrhea.
Common side effects
The side effects of Lexapro seem to be the same in both men and women. The side effects are slightly different for adults and children.
Adult side effects can include:
- sleeping trouble
- sexual problems, such as decreased sex drive and erectile dysfunction
- loss of appetitive
- dry mouth
The side effects for children and adolescents can include the above, plus:
- increased thirst
- abnormal increase in muscle movement or agitation
- trouble urinating
- heavy menstrual periods
- slowed growth and weight change
There have been some cases of decreased appetite and weight loss with the use of Lexapro in children and adolescents. Your child’s doctor may check their height and weight during treatment.
People with depression tend to have a low appetite and reduced body weight. In adults, some sources say Lexapro may cause a small amount of weight gain. However, if you gain weight, your weight may just be evening out because your depression is better managed and your appetite has returned. Other people lose weight when they’re taking Lexapro. The increase in serotonin may lead to loss of appetite.
Most of these side effects are mild. They should eventually go away on their own without treatment. If they’re more severe or don’t go away, tell your doctor.
Boxed warning side effects
A boxed warning is the most serious warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Lexapro may increase suicidal thoughts or actions. This risk is higher in in children, teenagers, or young adults. This is more likely to happen within the first few months of treatment or during dosage changes.
Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms, or call 911 or local emergency services if the symptoms are new, worse, or worrisome:
- attempts to commit suicide
- acting on dangerous impulses
- aggressive or violent actions
- thoughts about suicide or dying
- new or worse depression
- new or worse anxiety or panic attacks
- feeling restless, angry, or irritable
- trouble sleeping
- increased activity (doing more than what is normal for you)
- other unusual changes in your behavior or mood
Other serious side effects
Lexapro can also cause other serious side effects. Call your doctor right away if you have serious side effects. Call 911 or local emergency services if your symptoms feel life-threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency.
Severe allergic reactions
You should not take Lexapro if you’re allergic to it, its ingredients, or the antidepressant Celexa. Symptoms can include:
- breathing trouble
- swelling of your face, tongue, eyes, or mouth
- severe rash, hives (itchy welts), or blisters that may come on with fever or joint pain
Seizures or convulsions
There have been reports of some people having seizures while taking Lexapro. People with a history of seizures are at higher risk.
This is a serious condition. It happens when the levels of serotonin in your body get too high. It’s more likely to occur if you also take other drugs that increase serotonin, such as other antidepressants or lithium. Symptoms can include:
- hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t real)
- coma (loss of consciousness)
- coordination problems, overactive reflexes, or muscle twitching
- racing heart rate
- high or low blood pressure
- sweating or fever
- nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- muscle stiffness
Low salt levels
Lexapro may cause low salt levels in your body. This may be more likely to occur in seniors, people who take water pills, or people who are dehydrated. This side effect may cause:
- trouble concentrating
- thinking or memory problems
- unsteadiness that can lead to falls
If you have bipolar disorder, Lexapro may cause you to have a manic episode. Taking Lexapro without another drug for bipolar disorder may trigger an episode. Symptoms can include:
- greatly increased energy
- severe sleeping trouble
- racing thoughts
- reckless behavior
- unusually grand ideas
- excessive happiness or irritability
- talking quickly or more than normal
Lexapro may dilate your pupils. This may trigger a glaucoma attack, even if you don’t have a history of eye problems. Symptoms can include:
- eye pain
- changes in your vision
- swelling or redness in or around your eye
Side effects with other health conditions
If you have certain health conditions, you likely should not take Lexapro. In some cases, your doctor may lower your dosage or watch you more closely during your treatment with it. Tell your doctor if you have any of the following health conditions before taking Lexapro.
- A history of suicidal thoughts or behaviors—Lexapro can increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior, especially in children, teens, and young adults.
- Bipolar disorder—if you take Lexapro without taking other medications for bipolar disorder, Lexapro may bring on a manic episode.
- Seizures—this drug may cause seizures and make your seizure disorder worse.
- Glaucoma—this drug may bring on a glaucoma attack.
- Low salt levels—Lexapro can further lower your salt levels.
- Pregnancy—it isn’t known if Lexapro will harm your unborn baby.
- Breastfeeding—Lexapro may pass into breast milk and cause side effects in a child who is breastfed.
Interactions with other drugs
Certain medications can interact with Lexapro. Be sure to tell your doctor about all over-the-counter and prescription drugs, supplements, and herbs you take. Lexapro may interact with the following drugs:
- blood thinners such as warfarin to increase your risk of bleeding
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin to increase your risk of bleeding
- other drugs used to treat depression to increase the level of serotonin in your body, which can cause serotonin syndrome
Talk to your doctor
Lexapro is a powerful drug used to treat depression and anxiety. While it can be very effective, it may also cause side effects. Be sure to tell your doctor about other health conditions you have and medications you take before starting Lexapro. This information can help your doctor reduce your chance of side effects. Also tell your doctor if you do have any side effects. If you can’t tolerate the effects, your doctor may change your medication. Keep in mind that Lexapro and other drugs in its class cause many of the same side effects.