Lexapro Weight Gain: What to Expect

Many antidepressants can affect your weight

Weight gain while taking Lexapro (escitalopram) is not uncommon. The medication, often prescribed to treat depression or anxiety disorders, belongs to a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications all list weight gain as a possible side effect.

Serotonin is at the root of this. SSRIs like Lexapro work by increasing levels of this chemical, which is involved in feeling happier, calmer, and more focused. Serotonin is also involved in appetite.

Lexapro doesn't cause weight gain for everyone, however. This article explains the connection, other possible side effects, and some lifestyle changes you can make to manage Lexapro weight gain.

What to Know About Lexapro and Weight Gain - Illustration by Theresa Chiechi

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Lexapro and Weight

Many antidepressants can affect weight. For example, one study that compared weight gain and other side effects in 100 people taking SSRI drugs (70% of them assigned female at birth) found that:

  • Zoloft (sertraline) caused weight gain in 49.1% of cases
  • Prozac (fluoxetine) caused weight gain in 37.5% of cases
  • Lexapro (escitalopram) caused weight gain in 41% of cases

Some people may be more likely to gain weight than others. A separate study found that risk factors for weight gain include:

  • A sedentary lifestyle, with limited physical activity or exercise
  • A history of smoking
  • A diet high in carbohydrates, processed meats, and dairy

Why Lexapro Causes Weight Gain

A person taking Lexapro may experience some weight gain, especially with long-term use. That risk may continue for up to six years. There are many reasons for why this may occur.

One of Lexapro's weight gain mechanisms is that it 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. People who take some of the newer antidepressants, including Lexapro, may have a slightly higher rate of weight gain.

How Much Weight Gain is Common With Lexapro?

Weight gain when taking Lexapro depends on the individual. One research review found that after nine months of treatment with Lexapro, participants experienced moderate weight gain of 1.1 kilograms (about 2.4 pounds).

Lexapro 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.

The Effect of Depression or Anxiety on Weight

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 to 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. Weight changes may be related to your improving symptoms rather than a Lexapro side effect.

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 in their activities and relationships, fatigue, and low appetite or overeating.

One study from Finland looked at the potential link between depression and being severely overweight 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 to 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.

While studies may reveal patterns, reactions to anxiety and stress vary at the individual level.

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 a 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

How to Avoid Gaining Weight on Lexapro

Medications can affect people very differently. Some may experience significant changes in their weight, while others may see none at all. While there is no harm in gaining some weight, there are ways that you can avoid gaining weight on Lexapro if you desire to maintain your body weight.

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. A 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 Healthcare Provider

If you are concerned about or are experiencing significant weight changes while taking an antidepressant, talk with a healthcare provider. They may be able to change your medication or dose, refer you to a nutritionist, or recommend lifestyle changes.

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 a 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.

Relief from your anxiety or depression symptoms also could impact your weight. A healthy diet and regular exercise are essential for recovering from mood and anxiety disorders. They can also help to prevent weight changes.

Sometimes weight gain or weight loss may lead to other health problems, so it’s best to speak with a 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 a healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does lexapro cause weight gain right away?

    It may take up to six to eight weeks to feel the full effects of Lexapro. You may begin to see weight changes during that timeframe.

  • How do you wean yourself off of Lexapro?

    Never stop taking Lexapro abruptly or without consulting a healthcare provider. They can slowly decrease the dose so that you avoid withdrawal symptoms like irritability, dizziness, nightmares, headaches, and nausea.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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