Written by Shannon,
Medically reviewed by:
Jen Miller, PMHNP-BC
Lexapro is one of several very commonly prescribed medications when it comes to treating anxiety and depression, and it is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI. Lexapro can be highly effective when used properly, and learning more about how it works can help you determine if it might be a good fit for you.
Building a better understanding of Lexapro can also help steer you in the right direction if you are not sure which medications may or may not be right for you. Keep in mind that you should always consult your mental health provider if you have questions or concerns, as your provider will be able to get you answers specific to your health history as well as recommend the medication most likely to work for your individual needs.
What is Lexapro?
Lexapro is the brand name for the drug escitalopram, and is an antidepressant belonging to the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, commonly referred to as SSRIs.
SSRIs are antidepressants that increase levels of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that helps maintain mental balance—in your brain. Increasing serotonin can improve your mood and reduce your symptoms.
Your brain is constantly changing based on your environment, behaviors, diet, and medications. SSRIs change your brain by stimulating the growth of new cells and creating stronger connections, particularly in an area of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). New cell growth in the DLPFC can regulate areas of your brain that control anger, fear, memories, and mood.
Lexapro is commonly used to treat both generalized anxiety disorder and depression in adults and adolescents, and when you first begin taking this medication it’s important to pay close attention to any changes that take place in your mood and symptoms. Aside from treatment for anxiety and depression, Lexapro may be used off-label to treat eating disorders such as binge eating or bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Escitalopram is a well-tolerated antidepressant. But, as with any medication, you may experience side effects such as:
- Dry mouth
- Increased sweating
- Nervousness or restlessness
- Sleep disturbances, like difficulty falling or staying asleep
Usually, side effects go away within a week or two after your body adjusts to the medication. If they don’t go away or you’re concerned about them, talk with your provider. They may simply need to adjust your dose.
Lexapro dosing: what you need to know
If you are prescribed Lexapro for anxiety or depression, it is important for you to follow any specific instructions that your provider gives you. Your provider’s instructions will be tailored to you and your needs, so you should abide by them carefully and avoid taking more or less than your prescribed medication dosage based on the experiences of other people.
With Lexapro and many other medications prescribed for anxiety and depression, you may have to take your medication for several weeks or a month or so in order to start noticing improvements, so patience is key.
The right dosing for you will depend on your individual needs and situation, and proper dosing may vary from person to person. Your dosing will also depend on the strength of your medication, so again, it is important to follow your provider’s instructions.
Some things to keep in mind
When you first begin taking Lexapro for anxiety and/or depression, it can take a while for you to start noticing improvements in your symptoms. In fact, it may take about a month for you to begin feeling better. Patience is key, and while some noticeable improvements may take place within 4 to 6 weeks after you begin treatment, it can actually take several months for the full effects of your medication to kick in.
A good rule of thumb is also to start low when it comes to dosing and then increase your dose very slowly if your initial dosage guidelines do not prove to be effective. You should never try to increase your dosage on your own — instead, consult your provider if you think an increased dose may be necessary.
For some, combining the use of medication with some form of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, may help you more than medication alone, especially when it comes to treating anxiety.
Here at Brightside, we offer the anxiety and depression care you deserve, right from your own home. Brightside’s psychiatric providers can get you the prescriptions you need as well as set you up with a tailored therapy plan suited to your exact needs. Medication can even be delivered to your door. You can also opt for a combination of both medication and therapy if you and your provider feel that this approach may be best.
Whatever you need, Brightside is here to help.
The bottom line
Lexapro is the brand name for the drug escitalopram, which is an SSRI, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. SSRIs work by preventing your body from reabsorbing some of your serotonin, and the prevention of this results in higher levels of serotonin in your brain. Low serotonin levels have been linked to mood disorders and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
When you begin using Lexapro for your anxiety and depression, it is important to carefully follow the instructions you receive with your medication, as well as any specific instructions your provider gives you.
It may take a month or so for you to start noticing improvements in your symptoms, and if no improvements take place you should consult your provider to adjust your dosage if necessary.