Lexapro is an antidepressant used to treat major depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder. It can sometimes also be used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, although this is a less common use. This is a specific brand name for the generic drug escitalopram oxalate.
This drug belongs to a category of serotonin-related drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The specifics of how SSRIs work are not fully known, but Lexapro is used to correct an imbalance of serotonin in the brain.
Lexapro is specifically meant for adutls over 18 years of age. It may be used for adolescents, but there is not enough data to determine its efficacy in younger age groups.
Many antidepressants have withdrawal side effects once you discontinue them. This is because they tend to create a dependence in your body that makes it difficult to quit taking the medicine. It’s not the same as addiction, as there is little to no chance of craving this medicine after you stop taking it.
Withdrawal is a physical response to dependence that’s been recorded to happen often with people taking Lexapro.
Lexapro Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms for antidepressant withdrawal syndrome caused by Lexapro include the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive sweating
- Hypersensitivity, especially to temperature or sound
- Vivid dreams or nightmares
- Restless legs
- Depression symptoms
- Anxiety symptoms
- Mood swings
- Unusual pain or numbness
- Electrical shock sensations (sometimes called “brain zaps”)
This is a general symptoms list that includes various symptoms reportedly experienced by people who stopped taking Lexapro. You may not experience the same symptoms as others, or you may experience them to a different degree than others.
It’s unlikely that you will experience all of the withdrawal symptoms for Lexapro, though you’re likely to experience more than one at a time. Symptoms may be severe or mild. Your specific response to Lexapro withdrawal is unpredictable, which is why you should not try to discontinue the medication without your doctor’s supervision.
Symptoms of Lexapro withdrawal can be uncomfortable and may inhibit your daily life while they’re at their strongest. However, they rarely present any real physical danger to your health and can sometimes be managed with the right treatment and discontinuation options. If your symptoms are severe or causing you harm, contact your doctor immediately.
Withdrawal Symptoms or Returning Chronic Symptoms?
Symptoms of withdrawal from Lexapro can look a lot like the symptoms you were originally experiencing, especially if you’re using Lexapro to treat depression and anxiety. However, there are some things that may indicate the symptoms are connected to withdrawal rather than the return of the condition you were treating:
If the symptoms you’re experiencing happen hours, days, or a week after you stop taking Lexapro or reduce your normal dose, they are more likely to be from withdrawal. Your normal symptoms are unlikely to return in such a short time, if they return at all.
Multiple Physical Symptoms
Most cases of withdrawal include multiple symptoms that are physical in nature. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of depression or anxiety alongside other physical discomforts, including any listed above, it may be a sign that you’re experiencing withdrawals. Your symptom combinations may be unusual compared to what you originally experienced.
Disappearance Upon Return to Regular Dosage
In many cases, symptoms that are caused by withdrawal will disappear if you return to taking your normal dosage. If your symptoms do stop once you take a normal dose again, it’s more likely to be related to withdrawal than your original condition. Most underlying conditions for Lexapro will not experience rapid changes in symptoms in response to short-term medication changes.
Withdrawal symptoms will slowly start to recede as you get farther away from your last dose. They will start strong and wane as time goes on. Returning symptoms from your original condition generally will come back gradually and get worse as they go, if they return at all.
Lexapro Withdrawal Timeline
Unfortunately, there’s no predictable timeline for how long your Lexapro withdrawal symptoms will last. They could last for weeks or in some cases months after you stop taking the medication, or after you reduce your normal dosage.
Symptoms always show up the strongest right after a change is made in your medication schedule. If you try to quit Lexapro abruptly, which is not advised, you could face severe withdrawal symptoms that will slowly fade away as time passes. This might take weeks or months.
When you slowly reduce your dose over a period of time, symptoms of withdrawal are likely to occur most strongly right after you make any adjustment in your routine. Even slight reductions can bring about some withdrawal symptoms, though they may not be as strong or debilitating. In general, the larger the reduction in your dosage, the stronger your symptoms are likely to be.
The length of your treatment has some effect on the timeline of withdrawal. If you discontinue the drug completely from a very small dose versus your normal treatment dose, you may experience more mild symptoms for a shorter period of time. Stopping abruptly could lead to a longer period of experiencing stronger withdrawal symptoms.
Treating Lexapro Withdrawal
Before you stop taking Lexapro, it’s a good idea to plan out how you’re going to stop. Discuss it with your doctor and come up with a plan for discontinuation before you start to experience any negative symptoms. It will be easier to plan before you stop instead of waiting until you’re already experiencing withdrawal.
The most effective way to stop treatment with Lexapro is to slowly reduce your dosage over time. This is called tapering, and it’s recommended by many medical professionals.
When you’re tapering your antidepressant use, you will adjust your dosage by small amounts as your body gets used to the new reduced levels. Your doctor should be supervising the process to assist you if you’re having trouble with symptoms or adjustments. Your dosage adjustments should be monitored closely to help you avoid severe symptoms.
Some patients reduce their dose every 1 to 2 weeks, while others wait 2 to 6 weeks to allow symptoms to fully subside before continuing down. Depending on your normal dosage, it may take a few weeks or many months to discontinue usage fully.
The typical recommendation is to avoid cutting your Lexapro dosage by more than 10% at a time. This allows your body to get used to the reduced levels more easily and to make the process more comfortable for you.
When you’re tapering your Lexapro usage, you may consider switching to a liquid form of the medication if possible. With liquid medication, you have the ability to adjust in smaller increments that make more sense for you personally.
Rather than tapering off the drug completely, some doctors prefer to give you increasingly larger doses of a similar antidepressant while you reduce your Lexapro dosage. Some antidepressants have more mild withdrawal symptoms and a shorter half-life in your body, such as fluoxetine, which may make it easier for you to quit them after you finish your Lexapro dose.
Some studies have shown a benefit in taking a regular antihistamine to combat withdrawal symptoms. Your withdrawal symptoms may not respond to antihistamine treatments, as it’s not effective in every case of Lexapro withdrawal.
Other Medicinal Treatments
To make withdrawal more bearable, your doctor may give you some additional medications to support you during the process. This could include periodic use of sleep aids if you’re suffering from insomnia, anti-anxiety medication for any anxiety symptoms, or pain medications to ease discomfort.
Physical Wellness Routines
Other than medicinal solutions to help with withdrawal symptoms, you can also work on personal wellness practices to improve your health and limit the negative effects. This includes regular exercise, which helps to regular serotonin binding in your brain, limiting the side effects of coming off a serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Lexapro.
An improved diet, regular sleep, and exercise can help you to be more comfortable and to reduce the severity of some Lexapro withdrawal symptoms. This will not keep you from experiencing symptoms entirely.