If you have depression, anxiety or a mood disorder, Celexa can be a godsend. Although typically worth the relief from these conditions, side effects are not uncommon. One of those side effects can be changes in weight — either weight loss or weight gain.
What Is Celexa?
Celexa is the brand name for citalopram, a prescription medication belonging to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Celexa and other SSRIs work by raising levels of serotonin — a neurotransmitter — in the brain.
According to Mayo Clinic, SSRIs generally have fewer side effects than other medications used to treat depression, anxiety and mood disorders. Some people may not experience any side effects. For others, possible side effects include:
- Dry mouth
- Agitation, nervousness or restlessness
- Problems with sexual function, such as decreased libido, erectile dysfunction or difficulty having an orgasm
- Blurred vision
- Increased sweating
Some symptoms may be more serious, but are typically rare, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness:
- Increased bleeding
- Low sodium levels
- Teeth grinding
- Angle closure glaucoma (symptoms include eye pain, vision changes and redness or swelling around the eye)
Serotonin syndrome is a serious side effect that occurs when levels of serotonin in the brain rise too high. The risk is increased if you are also taking other medications that raise serotonin, so it is important to tell your doctor or pharmacist all the medications you take.
Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, loss of coordination, severe dizziness, severe nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, muscle twitches, unexplained fever, severe agitation and restlessness. If you experience these symptoms, it is important to stop the medication and seek medical attention immediately.
Celexa and Weight Loss
Weight loss is not a common side effect of Celexa, but it is possible. The Food and Drug Administration reports that, in a trial involving 1,063 people receiving treatment with Celexa, 4 percent experienced anorexia as a side effect. Anorexia is the medical term for loss of appetite, which may or may not be associated with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia leads to reduced calorie intake, which causes weight loss. Some of the side effects of Celexa may be the cause of reduced appetite, including restlessness, agitation, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness and headache. All of these symptoms can cause you to want to eat less.
However, the study also compared the incidence of side effects with a control group and found that 2 percent of people receiving a placebo also experienced anorexia. In terms of actual weight change, the treatment group lost .5 kilograms, or 1.1 pounds, compared to the control group.
Other Reasons for Weight Loss
If you have just begun treatment and the symptoms of your condition have not yet subsided, or if you have been in treatment for a while but the medication is not working as well as it should, your weight loss may be a side effect of your condition and not the medication itself. Changes in appetite and weight are common symptoms of depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in April 2016, appetite changes in depression may be the cause of alterations in the brain regions associated with the condition.
Specifically, participants with decreased appetite exhibited increased activation in the mid-insula, a region of the brain in charge of various functions including sensory and affective processing and high-level cognition, when exposed to food stimuli. In contrast, participants who experienced increased appetite exhibited greater hemodynamic activity, a measure of neural signaling indicated by increased blood volume.
Many physical illnesses can cause loss of appetite and weight loss. According to Mayo Clinic, some of these include:
- Crohn's disease
- Celiac disease
- Hypercalcemia (high blood calcium levels)
- Parkinson's disease
- Peptic ulcer
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
If you are experiencing weight loss that seems excessive, it is important to see your doctor, whether or not you believe your medication is causing it. It may require a change in dosage or the addition of another medication. If it is not due to your medication, your doctor will likely want to run some tests to rule out other serious medical causes.
Tips to Increase Appetite
In the meantime, you can take some steps to stimulate your appetite. The University of Rochester Medical Center recommends trying the following:
- Eat smaller meals more frequently, five or six per day.
- Don't drink fluids at mealtime. They fill you up and you have less room for foods. Drink liquids at least 30 minutes prior to meals.
- Avoid high-fat foods which can fill you up too quickly.
- Chew your food slowly.
- Avoid foods that cause gas and bloating, such as cabbage and broccoli. Also avoid carbonated drinks, such as soda and beer.
- Don't smoke. Smoking can reduce your appetite.
- Perform light exercise before meals.
- Add spices, lemon juice or vinegar to foods to perk up the flavor.
- Choose foods you like rather than trying to eat foods just because they're healthy. Find ways to make the unhealthy foods healthier, such as using fresh fruit to sweeten a smoothie instead of sugar.
- Marinate meats and fish before cooking if the strong smells bother you.
- Make mealtimes pleasing. Eat with family and friends, use colorful place settings and play nice music.
- Get plenty of rest.
If depression, anxiety or a mood disorder have reduced your ability to care for yourself, including preparing calorie-sufficient, nutritious food, it's important to get assistance. Ask friends or family for help with grocery shopping and simple food preparation. Keep easy-to-cook foods on hand, even if they are packaged, microwavable dinners. Look for microwave meals containing plenty of vegetables that are low in saturated fat and sodium and high in protein and fiber.
- Mayo Clinic: "Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)"
- FDA: "Celexa"
- NAMI: "Citalopram (Celexa)"
- Kaiser Permanente: "Celexa 10 mg Tablet"
- MedlinePlus: "Appetite - Decreased"
- American Journal of Psychiatry: "Depression-Related Increases and Decreases in Appetite Reveal Dissociable Patterns of Aberrant Activity in Reward and Interoceptive Neurocircuitry"
- Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology: "Structure and Function of the Human Insula"
- Journal of Neurophysiology: "Local and Global Contributions to Hemodynamic Activity in Mouse Cortex"
- Mayo Clinic: "Unexplained Weight Loss"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "Loss of Appetite During Cancer Treatment"
- Pancreatic Cancer Action Network: "Overcoming Poor Appetite"