Lexapro (escitalopram) is an antidepressant drug that’s used to treat depression and general anxiety disorder (GAD). The medication is in a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications work by affecting the brain’s ability to receive serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Lexapro was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002 and is made by Forest Laboratories, Inc.
Lexapro Health Risks
In addition to the health risks announced in the FDA alerts, there may be other dangers associated with Lexapro use. The risks of using Lexapro include:
- An increased risk of committing suicidal actions or having suicidal thoughts
- Bleeding problems, especially if taken with aspirin, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen), or other drugs that affect bleeding
- Mania (becoming hyperactive, excitable, or elated)
- Seizures (even if Lexapro is not taken close in time with a MAOI)
- Increased risks if you’re pregnant or may become pregnant. Babies born to mothers taking Lexapro late in pregnancy have developed problems such as difficulty breathing and feeding
- Sexual problems including impotence (erectile dysfunction), abnormal ejaculation, difficulty in reaching orgasm, or decreased libido (sexual desire)
You shouldn’t stop taking Lexapro suddenly because doing so may result in harmful side effects. Your healthcare professional should slowly decrease your dose as necessary. Make sure you tell your doctor about any medical conditions, including liver or kidney disease, or glaucoma. Other side effects of Lexapro use may include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased sweating
Can Other Medicines or Food Affect Lexapro?
In order to avoid dangerous interactions with any medicines you might be taking, tell your healthcare professional about all prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements that you take. You shouldn’t take Lexapro with Celexa (citalopram), another drug used to treat depression. As these drugs are similar, taking them together increases the risk of an overdose. Finally, if you plan to drink alcohol while taking Lexapro, you should talk to your healthcare professional.
When Lexxapro should not be taken
Never take Lexapro while taking another type of drug that treats depression, called a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), or if you’ve stopped taking an MAOI in the last 14 days. Taking these two drugs close in time can result in serious and sometimes fatal reactions, including coma, seizures, and high body temperature. MAOI drugs include Nardil (phenelzine sulfate), Parnate (tranylcypromine sulfate), Marplan (isocarboxazid), and other brands.
Lexapro FDA Alert - Serotonin Syndrome
The FDA issued an alert in July 2006 stating that a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome can occur when SSRIs and medicines used to treat migraine headaches known as 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor agonists (triptans), are taken together. Signs and symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:
- Loss of coordination
- Fast heartbeat
- Increased body temperature
- Fast changes in blood pressure
- Overactive reflexes
Serotonin syndrome is more likely to occur when starting or increasing the dose of an SSRI or a triptan. If you take migraine headache medicines, ask your healthcare professional if your medication is a triptan.
Lexapro FDA Alert - Antidepressants and Pregnant Women
The FDA then issued another alert announcing the results of a study looking at the use of antidepressant medicines during pregnancy by mothers of babies born with a serious condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). Babies born with PPHN don’t get enough oxygen to their bodies and have abnormal blood flow through the heart and lungs. Babies born with PPHN can be very sick and may die. Results from the study also showed that babies born to mothers who took SSRIs 20 weeks or later into their pregnancies had a higher chance (were 6 times as likely) to have PPHN, when compared to babies born to mothers who did not take antidepressants during pregnancy.
Talk to your healthcare professional if you are taking Lexapro and are pregnant, or are planning to become pregnant. You and your healthcare professional can decide the best way to treat your depression during pregnancy. Also let your doctor know if you breast-feed or are planning to breast-feed your baby.
Lexapro and the Increased Risk of Suicidality
In October 2004, the FDA issued a public health advisory directing all antidepressant drug manufacturers to revise their product labeling to include boxed warning and expanded warning statements that alert healthcare providers to an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children and adolescents being treated with these medications. Lexapro-maker Forest Laboratories, Inc. has since added a black box warning to Lexapro's prescribing information in response to the FDA advisory. Click here for more information on this advisory.
In June 2005, the FDA issued a public health advisory announcing that several recent scientific publications suggested the possibility of an increased risk for suicidal behavior in adults being treated with antidepressant medications, such as Lexapro. The FDA highlighted that adults taking antidepressants (particularly those being treated for depression) should be watched closely for worsening depression and increased suicidality. Monitoring these patients is especially important when treatment begins and when doses are increased or decreased. The FDA is working closely with antidepressant manufacturers to fully evaluate the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in adults treated with these medications.
Getting Legal Help
While most medications have certain anticipated side effects, a drug manufacturer has a duty to make its products as reasonably safe as possible, and to inform the medical community and the public of known risks associated with its drugs. If a manufacturer fails to do so, it can be held legally responsible if patients are injured as the result of inadequate warnings or the unreasonably dangerous nature of the drug, under a legal theory called "product liability."
If you or a loved one has experienced any dangerous symptoms or unusual medical conditions related to Lexapro use, you should first contact your doctor or other healthcare professional. It’s also in your best interests to meet with an experienced product liability attorney to discuss your options and to protect your right to a legal remedy for any injuries caused by Lexapro use.