Lexapro Side Effects

Lexapro (escitalopram) is an SSRI antidepressant which works by increasing serotonin activity in the brain. Though most Lexapro side effects are mild, it may cause serious adverse events in some people. Lexapro is linked with an increase in suicide and it may cause birth defects, some of which are potentially fatal.

Sign up for our newsletter to get updates on drugs & medical devices

If you would like to sign up for our newsletter click the button below.

Sign Up For Newsletter
Quick Summary

Lexapro Common Side Effects

Lexapro (escitalopram) is an SSRI antidepressant medication which works by affecting serotonin levels in certain areas of the brain. Like all medications it may cause side effects, most of which are not serious and will go away with time.

Common side effects of Lexapro include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Weight changes
  • Sexual dysfunction

Lexapro Serious Side Effects

Lexapro may also cause side effects or complications which are more severe or may be serious or life-threatening.

Serious side effects or complications of Lexapro include:

  • Increased suicide risk
  • Birth defects
  • Serotonin Syndrome
  • Withdrawal effects

Severe side effects of Lexapro should be reported to a health care professional right away. Sudden or severe symptoms such as changes in level of consciousness should treated as a medical emergency as they may be life-threatening.

Lexapro Side Effects Overview

Lexapro is the brand name of generic escitalopram. It is a serotonin-specific or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant which only affects serotonin levels in the brain. Lexapro is approved for depression and anxiety disorder, but it is also used for other conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.

Lexapro is manufactured by Forest Laboratories who has been accused of failure to warn about severe side effects and serious risks and is has faced numerous lawsuits for injuries caused by its use.

Common Lexapro Side Effects

Like all medications, Lexapro may cause a number of side effects. In most cases, side effects are mild to moderate and will go away with time. In other cases, however, side effects may be more severe, result in serious injury or may be life-threatening.

Common side effects include:

  • CNS effects:
    • Dizziness
    • Drowsiness
    • Fatigue
    • Insomnia
    • Headache
  • GI complaints:
    • Nausea
    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • Weight Loss or Gain
    • Dry Mouth
  • Weight changes
  • Sweating
  • Sexual difficulties (both males and females)

Bothersome or persistent side effects should be reported to a health care provider.

Severe Lexapro Side Effects

In addition to the common side effects of Lexapro, the medication may cause side effects or complications which are more severe or may be serious or life-threatening.

Lexapro Suicide Risk

Lexapro has been linked to an increase in suicide risk, especially in patients under 25 or have a history of suicidal thoughts or behaviors and in those with bipolar disorder.

Since 2004, the FDA has required that Lexapro and other SSRIs include information about increased suicide risk at the top of prescribing information. This information must be enclosed in a box with a thick, black border. It is the most severe notice that the FDA issues and is known as a “black box warning”

Lexapro Birth Defects

When SSRIs were introduced to the market, they were believed to be safer than older antidepressants which were rarely given during pregnancy. Lexapro has been widely used during pregnancy but has been linked to a number of birth defects. Some of these effects are severe, permanently debilitation or may cause death.

Because of the risk of birth defects, the medication has been classified as Pregnancy Category C. Category C medications have been shown to cause birth defects in humans and should not be used unless the benefits outweigh the risks.

Lexapro birth defects affect may affect vital organs and have included:

  • Hypoplastic Left or Right Heart syndrome (HLHS or HLRS), a medical emergency which is up to 70% fatal
  • Persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN), a medical emergency that is 10% fatal
  • Spina Bifida (underdeveloped vertebra and exposed spinal cord), often 15% fatal by age 4
  • Anencephaly (malformation of brain and skull), usually fatal shortly after birth
  • Omphalocele (abdominal organs grown on outside of abdomen), requires surgery and is sometimes fatal
  • Cleft Palate or Lip (malformation of roof of mouth or upper front jaw), may require surgery
  • Scoliosis (curved spine), may require surgery or be permanently disabling
  • Club feet (feet curl inwards), may require surgery or be permanently disabling
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Delayed Development Disorder (DDD)
  • Withdrawal symptoms or Serotonin Syndrome in infants

A 2006 FDA safety alert warned of the risks of SSRI medication use during pregnancy and the Agency required manufacturers to strengthen warnings.

Lexapro and Serotonin Syndrome

“Serotonin syndrome” occurs when serotonin levels in the brain become too high. Other medications which affect serotonin levels can increase the risk. These medications may include cough remedies, herbal supplements and migraine treatments.

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome should be reported to a doctor immediately and may include:

  • Sudden or unexpected high fever
  • Increased heart rate, irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of balance, lack of coordination
  • Confusion, hallucinations
  • Seizures

Lexapro Discontinuation or Withdrawal Syndrome

Some evidence shows that Lexapro and other SSRIs may cause result in a withdrawal syndrome if the medication is suddenly discontinued. A gradual reduction of the dose is recommended rather than abrupt discontinuation.

Symptoms of withdrawal may include:

  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Nightmares
  • Headache
  • Odd or unusual skin sensations

In most cases, withdrawal will subside over a short period of time and are lessened by gradual tapering, but some patients may find symptoms bothersome for months. Severe or bothersome withdrawal symptoms should be reported to a health care professional.

The FDA has issued numerous warnings about the dangers of Lexapro and has recently requested that certain changes to some SSRI warnings. Forest Laboratories was accused of hiding negative information about the medication and promoting unapproved uses of the medication. They paid $313 million in 2009 but are facing a number of lawsuits.

Patients who have been harmed by severe Lexapro side effects may be eligible for compensation for medical costs, lost wages and pain and suffering. People or loved ones of those affected by suicide, birth defect, required hospitalization or who died after using Lexapro should seek expert legal advice.

Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.