Lexapro is the brand name for a medication called escitalopram. It is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Lexapro acts by increasing serotonin levels, a chemical released by nerve cells in the brain and other parts of the body. It belongs to a group of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Negative effects may occur when Lexapro is stopped. These withdrawal symptoms -- also called discontinuation syndrome -- are caused by a drop in serotonin levels, according to WebMD. Withdrawal symptoms primarily occur when the medication is stopped suddenly. They are also more likely to occur in people who have been taking Lexapro for a prolonged period -- about 6 weeks or longer. Discontinuation syndrome is not unique to Lexapro. It can occur with any type of antidepressant.
Mood and Sleep Effects
People who stop taking Lexapro may experience several mood effects. According to the FDA-approved prescribing information, these symptoms include irritability, agitation, anxiety, mood swings and feelings of uneasiness. Aggression and rebound depression may also develop. Sleep problems are another potential effect. They include both nightmares and insomnia -- difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
A number of neurological symptoms may occur when Lexapro is stopped. According to a review article published in the August 2006 issue of "American Family Physician," these symptoms can include dizziness, lightheadedness, numbness, tingling, electric shock-like sensations and blurred vision. Movement abnormalities, such as tremors, restlessness and Parkinson disease-like symptoms, may also occur.
Gastrointestinal and Other Effects
Lexapro discontinuation syndrome may produce gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, reduced appetite, diarrhea and abdominal pain or cramps, according to the 2006 "American Family Physician" article. Headaches, tiredness, lack of energy and flu-like symptoms may also occur.
Precautions and Next Steps
If you're taking Lexapro, don't discontinue it without first talking with your doctor. Unless you have severe side effects, such as an allergic reaction to Lexapro, your doctor will likely set up a dose reduction schedule to gradually discontinue the medication over about 6 to 8 weeks.
If withdrawal symptoms develop, they usually begin within 3 days of abruptly stopping Lexapro. The symptoms are generally mild and resolve without treatment in 1 to 2 weeks, according to the 2006 "American Family Physician" article. If treatment is desired, the previous dose of Lexapro can be resumed temporarily and then slowly decreased.
Reviewed and revised by Mary D. Daley, M.D.