One of the downsides of treatment with antidepressants is having to deal with the symptoms that come from quitting the medication. All antidepressants come with unwanted effects some of which show up when patients stop using them. These effects are known as withdrawal symptoms.
In this article, we will discuss the withdrawal symptoms associated with Lexapro, how long these symptoms last, and how to deal with them. You might also want to check out Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms and how to beat them hands down.
Before we go on to talk about the withdrawal symptoms of Lexapro, it is important to get to know Lexapro itself, what it does in the body and the features that make it a unique drug of study.
What Is Lexapro
Lexapro is a brand of the medication Escitalopram (pronounced Es-Sye-TAL-Oh-Pram). Let’s just stick to ‘Lexapro’ for this article (so that we don’t have to repeat that again).
Lexapro is an antidepressant which belongs to a class of medication known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Other SSRIs include Citalopram (Celexa), Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline(Zoloft), and Vilazodone (Viibryd).
Lexapro is used in the treatment of major depressive disorders, that is, cases of major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, which is characterized by excessive anxiety lasting for over six months.
Don’t get things mixed up though. People get anxious and worried every now and then, and it does not always mean that they are depressed. However, anxiety can cross the line to the side of depression when it is especially intense and prolonged, usually lasting over 6 months.
Physicians have guidelines and assessment tools which they use to diagnose depression, and then commence appropriate treatment based on the diagnosis.
The dose of Lexapro usually ranges from 5mg – 20mg once daily depending on the diagnosis of the physician.
How Lexapro Works
Basically, antidepressants help address a chemical imbalance in the brain. As earlier mentioned, Lexapro is an SSRI, and as their name implies SSRIs prevent the re-uptake of serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin is a chemical found in the brain, the bowels and in the platelets of the blood. It has a wide array of functions in appetite, sex, bone health, and sleep. It contributes to feelings of happiness and wellbeing, thereby earning its nickname ‘the happy chemical’.
A fall in the serotonin levels in the body has been associated with feelings of depression, anxiety, moodiness, and unhappiness. By preventing re-uptake of serotonin, Lexapro causes high levels of serotonin in the brain, leading to elevated mood and thereby countering depression.
Apart from medication, exercise and diet are other proven ways by which serotonin levels can be increased in the body.
What Are The Withdrawal Symptoms of Lexapro?
The withdrawal symptoms of Lexapro and the severity of the symptoms vary from one individual to another. These symptoms are also largely dependent on the dose and the length of time the medication has been used.
Common withdrawal symptoms of Lexapro include;
- Sensory disturbances such as ‘Brain shock’ – feels like an electric shock is moving in the head, a tingling or burning feeling.
- Numbness of limbs
- Aggressive mood swings
- Vivid dreams and nightmares
- Tinnitus – a perception of ringing in the ears
- Flulike symptoms such as excessive sweating, headaches, body aches, and chills.
These symptoms are usually more severe in patients who quit Lexapro abruptly. Quitting a medication abruptly popularly is known as quitting ‘cold turkey’ and it is rather unadvisable as it bears a higher chance of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.
How Long Do the Withdrawal Symptoms Of Lexapro Last?
How long a drug lasts in the body before being completely eliminated is dependent on a property of the drug, known as its ‘half-life’. The half-life is the time it takes for half of the drug concentration in the body to be eliminated.
A simple explanation would be for you to imagine you sliced an apple into two equal halves. You ate a half and sliced the other into two equal halves. If you kept eating one half and slicing the other, you would eventually have no sliceable slice left.
Lexapro has a half-life of about 30 hours meaning that if you took 10mg of Lexapro, for instance, 30 hours after that dose, 5mg would have been eliminated, leaving the other 5mg present in the body. After another 30 hours, 2.5mg would have been eliminated, and on and on.
The longer the half-life of a drug, the longer it would stay in the body and the longer you would feel its withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the dose and the duration of use, it takes about 3 weeks on the average, for the effect of Lexapro to fade off in the bloodstream.
In the first three days of quitting Lexapro, the symptoms experienced are usually mild. They become more intense in the next few days. In two to three weeks, the symptoms move from being mild to being intense and then gradually begins to fade off.
Sometimes, these symptoms may persist for more than three weeks, depending on the dose and duration of use of the drug, as earlier mentioned.
Managing Withdrawal Symptoms of Lexapro
The withdrawal symptoms associated with Lexapro can be well managed, with the right information and adequate support.
This can be done by slowly tapering off Lexapro, by gradually reducing the dose and/or frequency of use, while providing symptomatic relief to the patients.
When this process is done, the body gradually becomes accustomed to a decreased amount of Lexapro in the blood. This is continued until the body is able to adapt to the lowest dose possible, after which the drug is stopped.
Usually, the withdrawal symptoms after undergoing this process are minimal to none.
2. Symptomatic Treatment
Therapy can be based on treating the symptoms that present as the medication wears off from the body.
For example, withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vertigo, dizziness can be managed by using an antihistamine.
Aches and chills can be treated with mild pain relief medication and an antipyretic such as paracetamol.
Insomnia and restlessness can be managed by using a sedative.
These medications help to make the withdrawal symptoms more bearable, but of course, these are just suggestions and not a prescription. Please discuss with your doctor before commencing any medication.
Exercise increases the release of certain neurotransmitters in the body including serotonin which is an important mood elevator.
The recommended regimen is at least 30 minutes, three days a week. Exercising in a group also helps to boost moods by increasing social interactions.
L-Tryptophan is an amino acid that is important in the synthesis of serotonin in the body, hence consumption of foods that are rich in L-Tryptophan helps to increase serotonin levels in the body.
While serotonin itself cannot be found in food, L-Tryptophan is found richly in food, including;
- Poultry (chicken, eggs, turkey),
- Oily fish such as salmon
- Low-fat milk and cheese
- Soy products such as( tofu, soy sauce, soya milk)
- Green leafy vegetables (spinach, pumpkins)
- Nuts and seeds such as chia seeds
Food and supplements rich in Omega H3 are also recommended for use in patients with depression.
It is not advisable that you attempt to withdraw from Lexapro on your own. It is a journey that would require the best of your doctor, the support of family and friends and the most patient version of yourself.
It could be really uncomfortable but adhering to the advice above would definitely make the journey more bearable.
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