Lexapro is an antidepressant made by Forest Laboratories, and which has been in use since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it in 2002. Since 2012, generic versions of the drug have been available, and many people have benefitted from it in the treatment of depression and anxiety. As with other antidepressants, there have been some serious concerns about the safety of Lexapro.
Lexapro increases the risk of suicidal thoughts in young people, causes a dangerous withdrawal syndrome for those who stop using it suddenly, and has been connected to instances of birth defects. As a result of these issues, Forest Laboratories has been forced to settle lawsuits by paying up millions to plaintiffs. If you have been harmed by Lexapro, it’s not too late to make your case and get a share of the money.
What is Lexapro?
Lexapro is a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. There are several drugs in this class. The generic name for Lexapro is escitalopram. Since Forest Laboratories’ patent on Lexapro ran out in 2012, this generic form has been available at a cheaper price. The FDA first approved the drug in 2002 for the treatment of depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Doctors may also prescribe it for other anxiety disorders like panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
How it Works
As an SSRI, Lexapro works by acting on a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, in the brain called serotonin. Low levels of serotonin in the brain are associated with depression and anxiety, so a drug that can increase the amount available helps to relieve symptoms. Lexapro blocks the reuptake of serotonin. When this neurotransmitter is released in the brain, neurons reclaim some of it, lowering levels to maintain the right balance. In people struggling with depression or anxiety, this reuptake worsens symptoms. By blocking the reuptake, Lexapro results in more serotonin in the brain, which in turn results in symptom relief and a boost in mood.
The effects of Lexapro have been useful for many people suffering because of depression or anxiety, but it takes time for those effects to be felt. It may take between one and four weeks before a patient experiences any relief, which means that patience is required. Lexapro is considered generally safe for most people, but is not indicated for use in anyone allergic to escitalopram or people taking certain medications.
The most common side effects of taking Lexapro are not usually serious. If they are severe or do not go away, however, they should be reported to a doctor. These include sleepiness, dizziness, weakness, sweating, shaking, nausea, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, infections, constipation, and dry mouth. Children or young adults may also experience agitation, nose bleeds, an increased thirst, trouble urinating, heavier menstrual periods, and slowed growth or changes in weight.
Possible side effects that are serious and require immediate medical attention include being unusually excited, fever with sweating a fast heartbeat, confusion, and muscle stiffness, and hallucinating, which means hearing and seeing things that are not really there.
Lexapro includes a black box warning, a labeling requirement from the FDA when there are serious or life-threatening side effects possible. For Lexapro this possible life-threatening side effect is an increase in suicidal thoughts and actions and self-harm, particularly in young people. The risk is increased in children, teenager, and adults up to the age of 24, especially in the first few months of taking Lexapro or after any time the dosage is increased.
Anyone with a child or young adult taking Lexapro is urged to look for signs of suicidal thoughts. These include sudden mood swings, unusual or rapidly changing behaviors, quick changes in feelings, or taking risks and engaging in impulsive activities. Emergency medical attention should be sought for anyone whose depression worsens, talks about suicide, experiences a sudden burst of energy, irritability, or who just starts acting in ways that are unusual or troubling.
The FDA added these additional warnings to Lexapro labeling in 2007. The medication had already been on the market for five years, which means that many children and teens suffered the adverse effects before the black box warning was put in place. Doctors may prescribe Lexapro to children and young adults, but they are supposed to do so with caution, when other treatments are not possible.
Withdrawal and Discontinuation Syndrome
Another potentially serious effect of Lexapro and other SSRIs is that they can cause a condition called antidepressant discontinuation syndrome if a user stops taking the medication suddenly. Although these drugs are not considered addictive, they do cause withdrawal symptoms that can be severe and dangerous. Users are never supposed to stop taking Lexapro without the direction of a doctor. Discontinuation syndrome can be avoided by slowly weaning off the drug.
The symptoms of discontinuation syndrome include flu-like symptoms, headaches, lethargy, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, nightmares, dizziness and lightheadedness, and blurred vision. While all antidepressants have the potential to cause this syndrome, Lexapro is considered to be one of the medications that are more likely to cause it and to cause more severe symptoms.
Birth Defects and Autism
The most controversial of all potential side effects of Lexapro is the possibility of birth defects in the children of women who take the drug while pregnant. The labeling information for Lexapro does not include warnings for pregnant women, but there have been both reports and studies linking the medication to birth defects and an increased risk for autism.
One such study, reported in 2009, found that SSRIs like Lexapro increase the risk that pregnant women taking them will give birth to a baby with a heart defect. It was a large study, with more than 400,000 women, and found that the incidence of heart defects was greater in women who had taken SSRIs. Infants born to mothers who used SSRIs are also at an increased risk of having pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, a condition characterized by high blood pressure.
Another, more recent, study also found that the children of women who took antidepressants like Lexapro while pregnant have a greater risk of being diagnosed with autism and to experience developmental delays. The risk was increased by as much as three times when compared to the children of women who did not use antidepressants during pregnancy. Depression while pregnant also carries risks, which means that women and their doctors have to balance the benefits of using antidepressants with these potentially serious risks.
Forest Laboratories has been hit with several lawsuits over the years, and since the recent discovery of the potential risk for autism, there may be more on the horizon. The company was forced to pay more than $300 million in one settlement over an issue of unethical and illegal marketing. Forest was found to have been promoting the use of Lexapro off-label for children before it was approved for use with this age group. The FDA only approved Lexapro for children under 12 in 2009, but the company promoted this kind of use well before that.
Lawsuits against Forest have also been started by women who blame Lexapro for birth defects in their children. They accuse Forest of knowing about the risk of defects, but promoting the drug’s use for pregnant women in spite of that risk. They say the company misrepresented the risk, but Forest continues to say that Lexapro is safe for pregnant women. If you have experienced any of the adverse reactions from Lexapro, you too could make a case against Forest and seek monetary damages.