What You Need to Know About Lexapro and Weight Gain

Lexapro (escitalopram) is a medication often prescribed to treat depression or anxiety disorders. Lexapro belongs to a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This class of medications works by increasing serotonin levels, a chemical that helps regulate mood. When serotonin levels are in a normal range, you feel happier, calmer, less anxious, and more focused.

While Lexapro is generally quite helpful, one of the side effects is weight gain or loss.

Pink striped socks standing on pink scale

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Lexapro and Weight

Many antidepressants can affect weight. Some people may be more likely to gain weight than others. One study found that risk factors for weight gain include having a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, or eating a diet high in carbohydrates, processed meats, and dairy.

Weight Gain

A person taking Lexapro may experience some weight gain, especially with long-term use. There are many reasons this may occur. One is that Lexapro increases serotonin levels, and serotonin plays a role in weight control. Additionally, Lexapro may increase a person’s appetite, which usually leads to eating more and gaining weight. 

One study noted that people who took some of the newer antidepressants, including Lexapro, had a slightly higher rate of weight gain.

However, Lexapro may only cause slight weight gain. An older study indicated that after six months of treatment with Lexapro, about 13% of participants experienced weight gain of greater than 2 kilograms (about 4.4 pounds). A medical record review noted that after nine months of treatment with Lexapro, participants experienced moderate weight gain of 1.1 kilograms (about 2.4 pounds).

Weight Loss

Although less common, weight loss is also a potential side effect of Lexapro. There are some reports in which people lost weight when they first started taking Lexapro, but there is not much research support to back this.

As serotonin levels increase and people begin to experience symptom relief, some people will have more energy, leading to a desire to become more active. Also, some people may find that they are able to put a stop to their unhealthy eating patterns, such as binge eating. Both could lead to weight loss.

Lexapro and Depression or Anxiety

Both depression and anxiety can affect a person’s appetite. For example, some people may feel too anxious to eat. This can cause someone to have less of an appetite or find less pleasure in eating. Other people may find comfort in food and develop binge eating habits.

If Lexapro helps improve your depression or anxiety symptoms, it can have a positive impact on your eating habits. In turn, you may lose or gain some weight. These changes in weight may therefore be related more to improving symptoms rather than a side effect of the medication.

Depression

Depression can impact all aspects of life, such as work, relationships, and eating habits. Most people with depression experience feelings of deep sadness. Other symptoms of depression may include loss of interest, fatigue, and low appetite or overeating.

One study from Finland looked at the potential link between depression and obesity as a result of emotional eating. Emotional eating is when someone eats in a response to negative feelings. This study found that adults with depression who engaged in emotional eating were more likely to gain weight.

As Lexapro helps improve your depression symptoms, you may begin to see changes in your eating habits or energy levels. These changes could ultimately impact your weight.

Anxiety

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder. If you have an anxiety disorder, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode more often or for longer periods than the average person. 

A fight-or-flight response can result in physical symptoms that affect the digestive system, such as constipation, indigestion, and nausea. These symptoms may make a person so uncomfortable that they do not want to eat, or food becomes unappetizing.

Stress, which is linked to anxiety, can also have an impact on your weight. People react differently to stress or anxiety. For some people, mild stress may cause them to overeat. For others, severe stress may cause them to lose their appetite completely.

Men and women may also react differently to anxiety and stress. One study indicated that women eat more calories when anxious. This study also linked a higher level of anxiety to a higher body mass index (BMI) among women.

As with depression, as Lexapro improves anxiety symptoms, you may begin to see changes in your eating habits or energy levels, which in turn could cause you to lose or gain weight.

Other Side Effects of Lexapro

Lexapro can cause other side effects, which may include:

Some of these side effects, such as loss of appetite, nausea, and sleep disturbances, may impact a person's weight.

There is also the potential for serious side effects with Lexapro. Seek immediate help and contact your healthcare provider if you experience severe side effects, such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the face, tongue, or mouth
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Rash
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Confusion

Managing Weight on Antidepressants

Medications can affect people very differently. Some may experience significant changes in their weight, while others may see no changes at all.

Exercise

Exercise not only helps with weight management, but it can also improve sleep and reduce stress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults aged 18–64 years old get 2.5 hours of physical activity each week. The good news is you don’t have to do all of that in one sitting. You can break it up into smaller chunks of time throughout the week. It is best to find a routine that fits your schedule and commit to it. 

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating also plays an essential role in weight management. A healthy, balanced diet includes a combination of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and protein. Improving your eating habits may take time. The CDC recommends the following approach:

  • Reflect on your good and bad eating habits, as well as your common triggers for unhealthy eating.
  • Replace your unhealthy habits with healthier ones.
  • Reinforce your new healthier eating habits.

Medication Changes

Although most antidepressants have the potential to cause weight gain, there may be some that have a higher risk of causing it. Your healthcare provider may be able to switch your medication to find the best fit for you if you are concerned about weight changes caused by Lexapro.

When to See a Doctor

If you are concerned about or are experiencing significant weight changes while taking an antidepressant, you may want to talk with your healthcare provider. A doctor may be able to change your medication, alter your dose, refer you to a nutritionist, recommend lifestyle changes, or help address any questions or concerns you have about your medications.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much weight gain is normal on Lexapro?

Each person is unique, so there is no way to tell exactly how much weight you may gain while taking Lexapro. There are many factors that can influence weight gain, such as lifestyle choices or other health conditions. Not everyone who takes Lexapro will gain weight.

How long does it take for Lexapro to work?

It may take up to six to eight weeks to feel the full effects of Lexapro. However, some aspects, such as appetite, sleep, or energy levels, may show improvement within the first few weeks.

How do you wean yourself off of Lexapro?

You should never stop taking Lexapro abruptly. If you do, you can experience withdrawal symptoms, including irritability, dizziness, nightmares, headaches, nausea, or a tingling sensation on your skin. Your healthcare provider will slowly decrease your dose of Lexapro to help avoid these symptoms as you wean off the medication. Speak with your doctor before making any changes to your medications.

Summary

While Lexapro is effective at treating depression and anxiety disorders, it may cause unwanted weight gain or loss. The medication affects the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is involved in weight control. As your symptoms improve, you may also notice changes in your weight. Not all weight changes are bad. If you are concerned about this, reach out to your healthcare provider.

A Word From VeryWell

Changes in your weight are a potential side effect of taking Lexapro. Some people may experience only slight increases or decreases, while others may have bigger fluctuations. It’s generally a normal part of managing your condition with Lexapro.

On the flip side, relief from anxiety or depression symptoms could also impact your weight. A healthy diet and regular exercise are essential for recovering from mood and anxiety disorders. They can also help prevent weight changes.

Sometimes weight gain or weight loss may lead to other health problems, so it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to make sure you have the best treatment plan for you. It is important to not stop taking Lexapro without first consulting with your healthcare provider.

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