Forest Laboratories has been making the antidepressant Lexapro since it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002. As an antidepressant, this medication has helped many people overcome serious mood disorders, including anxiety disorders along with depression. In spite of this benefit, Lexapro also carries some troubling risks for anyone using it.
Lawsuits have been filed against Forest because of some of these damaging Lexapro side effects. They range from an increased risk of suicide to withdrawal to birth defects, and even autism spectrum disorders. The company may have faced lawsuits, but it still has yet to admit that there is anything wrong with Lexapro.
Lexapro and Its Uses
Lexapro is the generic drug escitalopram. It is a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). There are several other drugs in this class and they all work in a similar way, by increasing the amount of a chemical called serotonin in the brain. This is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, found naturally in the brain. Although depression is not fully understood, it is thought that people who struggle with this issue do not have enough serotonin.
SSRIs like Lexapro have been found to be effective in treating other conditions too, not just depression. Doctors may prescribe Lexapro for individuals suffering from any one of several anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Common Lexapro Side Effects
Like other SSRIs, the benefits of Lexapro are not seen right away in patients. Most have to take it for several weeks before they find relief. In the meantime, these patients may suffer from one or more of several common side effects. Fortunately most of these people will see their side effects lessen or disappear totally as they get used to the drug.
Among the most common side effects of escitalopram are anxiety, sleepiness or difficulty sleeping, weakness, dizziness, nausea, shaking, excessive sweating, appetite loss, sexual dysfunction, dry mouth, constipation, and infections.
Lexapro is not indicated for use in young adults and children, however, doctors may prescribe the drug to any patient if he or she believes it could be beneficial. In this special population there are some additional common side effects. Those that are not typically serious include difficulty urinating, increased thirst, heavy menstrual periods, agitation, weight gain or weight loss, nose bleeds, and slowed growth.
Children and teens may experience some of those side effects that are not considered too serious, but they are also vulnerable to one that is deadly serious. Lexapro and other antidepressants increase the chances that a young person, 24 or under, will start to feel suicidal, and that they may act on those feelings. The risk is serious enough that the label for Lexapro carries an FDA black box warning regarding it. The risk is highest in the first few months of treatment and after dosage increases.
Although Lexapro has been available since 2002, the warning from the FDA about this life-threatening risk did not come out until 2007. Lexapro and other similar drugs were in use for years without patients fully knowing the risk. The FDA did not approve Lexapro to be used in children until 2009, but even people in their 20s can be impacted by the suicide risk.
One of the lawsuits that Forest has faced over Lexapro is related to this devastating side effect. Reports of young people committing suicide while on antidepressants eventually led to warnings about the risk, but long before the warning came out Forest was found to be promoting Lexapro for off-label use in children. This is illegal, it put children at risk of death, and the company eventually paid a $300 million settlement for it.
Birth Defects and Developmental Issues
One of the most recent controversies regarding Lexapro side effects is the possible connection to birth defects. Many antidepressants have fallen under scrutiny as reports mount of women who took them during pregnancy then having children born with defects. Reports like these and the results of studies that confirm a link are fairly recent and the FDA has not yet decided on placing a warning on the Lexapro label.
One of these studies was published in 2009 and investigated a sample of 40,000 women and their children. The study found that using an SSRI like Lexapro during pregnancy increased the risk that a child would be born with a heart defect or a life-threatening condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. Other defects are also thought to be more common in the children of women using SSRIs, like cleft palate, spina bifida, and skull and facial defects.
Even more recent than the controversy over birth defects is the possible link between Lexapro and autism in children. A study found that women who used SSRIs during pregnancy are more likely to have a child who will eventually be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Lexapro and other antidepressants are not classified as habit-forming, and yet they are known to cause serious side effects when use is stopped suddenly. These side effects are very similar to withdrawal experienced by people addicted to drugs who stop using them. They include nausea, dizziness, nightmares, diarrhea, vomiting, insomnia, irritability, blurry vision, headaches, and symptoms that mimic the flu.
Lexapro is known to cause more severe withdrawal than other antidepressants and patients are warned not to stop using it suddenly. To stop using any antidepressant a patient must follow a doctor’s orders and be weaned from it slowly.
The side effects that Lexapro has the potential to cause range from mild to devastating and even deadly. While this drug may help many people, for others the risks are not worth the potential benefits and this is why some have filed lawsuits against Forest. If you have suffered because of taking Lexapro, or someone you care about has, a lawyer can walk you through your options and help you decide if you have a case or if you may be able to seek compensation for your suffering and medical expenses.
- http://wvrecord.com/stories/510551057-12-cabell-co-lawsuits-blame-lexapro-for-birth-defects http://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/0801/p449.html