Celexa is an antidepressant medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of major depression. It may also be prescribed to treat other conditions, although its use for them has not gotten FDA approval. Forest Laboratories created Celexa, with the generic name citalopram, and the medication has brought in billions of dollars of revenue for the company.
While Celexa has proven an effective element of treatment of depression for many patients, there are some serious concerns with this drug. These include a withdrawal symptom, an increased risk of suicidal thoughts, and even birth defects when used in women who are pregnant. Lawsuits have been filed against Forest Laboratories because of these risks, which have been devastating in the lives of some patients. If you have been adversely affected by Celexa, you may have a case too.
Celexa as an Antidepressant
Celexa belongs to a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. The FDA approved Celexa to treat major depression in 1998. In some European countries it has also been approved to treat panic disorder, agoraphobia, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Celexa is not recommended for use in children, but a doctor may decide to use it with a child depending on the circumstances.
Celexa works as an antidepressant because it increases the amount of serotonin in the brain. This is one of many types of brain chemicals used for signaling between neurons. Serotonin is known to affect mood, and more of it improves mood. SSRIs like Celexa inhibit or prevent neurons from sweeping up extra serotonin in the brain. This has the effect of increasing levels of the chemical and boosting mood.
Other Uses for Celexa
Although Celexa has only been approved by the FDA for treating depression, there are many other off-label uses for this drug. Doctors may prescribe it to treat anxiety disorders like panic disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. It may also help with premenstrual dysphoric disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and body dysmorphic disorder.
Some other conditions that may be treated with Celexa, although evidence for its effectiveness is limited, include Alzheimer’s disease, hot flashes, migraines, and diabetic neuropathy. Celexa has even been found to be somewhat effective in lowering the amount of alcohol consumed by patients with problem drinking habits.
Some of the more common and less serious side effects that can be caused by Celexa are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, heartburn, stomach pain, weight loss, muscle pain, dry mouth, weakness, shaking, tiredness, frequent urination, and heavy menstrual periods. These side effects should be reported to a doctor, especially if they are intense or do not go away over time. Many of the more common side effects occur as your body adjusts to the new medication, and they should diminish with time.
There are also some serious side effects to watch out for while taking Celexa. These could have serious consequences and require immediate medical attention. They include shortness of breath with chest pain, fainting and dizziness, a heartbeat that is too fast or too slow, fever and sweating, hallucinations, confusion, trouble concentrating, a rash or itching, and swelling in the mouth or face. Celexa may even cause a coma.
A major concern with Celexa and other antidepressants is that it can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and thoughts of self-harm in people under the age of 24. For this reason, doctors only prescribe Celexa to children in certain situations, such as a severe case of depression that doesn’t respond to other treatments. Although this is rare, it is life-threatening and warranted a black box warning on the drug’s label, a requirement set by the FDA.
Anyone who is 24 years old or younger taking Celexa should be monitored for signs of suicidal thoughts. Tragically, young people have died from suicide while taking antidepressants, although this outcome is rare. Signs include any thoughts of self-harm, panic, agitation and restlessness, uncharacteristically impulsive behaviors, mania, worrying, aggression, and any other types of behaviors that change rapidly and are out of character for that young person.
Another problem with antidepressants like Celexa is the withdrawal that may be experienced if medication use is stopped too suddenly. Patients using this drug are not supposed to stop using it without a doctor’s supervision. A doctor will direct you to wean yourself from it slowly. Symptoms of discontinuation syndrome can be serious and troubling. They include tremors, nausea, agitation, anxiety, dizziness, confusion, palpitations, rapid mood swings, irritability, and vision problems.
The FDA’s informational material on Celexa does include the fact that animal trials with the drug showed that it could affect the development of fetuses. This early research demonstrated that it could cause birth defects and developmental delays in unborn rats, although this was at doses much larger than people would be taking. The FDA ranks medications by class in terms of the risk of birth defects. Those with the least risk are in class A, followed by B, C, D, and Z, which represents the highest risk. Celexa is in class C, which means there is a moderate risk of birth defects in children whose mothers took this drug during pregnancy. Despite this risk, Celexa is not contraindicated for use in pregnant women.
Several sources of research and studies have found evidence that SSRIs can increase the risk of birth defects, with Celexa causing particular concern. Most common are skull and face defects and heart defects. These include craniosynostosis, a condition that causes the plates of the skull to fuse too early, a skull that is smaller than normal, and septal heart defects, malformed walls in the chambers of the heart.
Another very serious birth defect has been associated with use of Celexa: persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, or PPHN. A study found that when women used SSRIs in the third trimester of pregnancy, the infant had an increased risk of having PPHN. An infant with PPHD cannot adapt to breathing outside of the mother’s womb. It can be treated, but treatment must be administered quickly. If it is not, the baby can die or suffer long-term health problems due to oxygen deprivation.
One of the more recent findings about Celexa’s adverse effects is that it may increase the risk of a child developing autism, a developmental disorder that ranges from mild to severe and debilitating. A study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics in 2015 reported on findings that use of SSRIs like Celexa during the second and third trimesters of a pregnancy increases the risk that a child will be on the autism spectrum.
Lawsuits have been started against Forest Laboratories because of the damage caused to some individuals by Celexa. The suits claim that Forest did not provide adequate warning about certain risks like suicidal thoughts, birth defects, and autism in children. Some of the families starting suits against the company have lost loved ones to suicide or serious birth defects, while others must care for children with lifelong issues caused by certain defects or autism.
In 2010 one of these cases was settled and Forest even pleaded guilty of making false claims. In this particular case, Forest admitted to marketing Celexa for children and adolescents while it was still only approved for use in adults. The settlement was for $313 million. Other lawsuits are still ongoing. If you or a loved one has been harmed by the use of Celexa you still have time to file a suit or join a class action lawsuit.