If you suffer from anxiety or depression, there are several medications prescribed to treat symptoms of these conditions, two of the most common being Lexapro and Zoloft. But what exactly are they, how do they work, and which might be best for you?
Whether it’s Zoloft, Lexapro, or another medication, you’ll need to work with a healthcare provider to find the best drug to relieve your symptoms. In this article, we’ll discuss the similarities and differences between the two medications so that you can have an informed discussion with your healthcare provider.
If you’re looking for a medical provider for anxiety or depression treatment, Klarity is here for you. Schedule an appointment today, and within 48 hours, you’ll be seen by a licensed healthcare provider who can help you determine if either medication is best for your anxiety and depression symptoms.
This article discusses suicide, suicidal ideation, and self-harm. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or is in crisis, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 800-273-8255.
More About Lexapro and Zoloft
Both Lexapro and Zoloft are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin, increasing the amount of it in your brain. Serotonin is a chemical messenger associated with improved mood.
While Lexapro and Zoloft share similarities, they also have several differences that can help determine which one is best for you.
What Is Lexapro?
Lexapro is an SSRI commonly prescribed to treat major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. As an SSRI, Lexapro is a relatively safe medication, and most users experience few side effects. By balancing the serotonin levels in the brain, Lexapro is able to regulate mood and increase energy levels.
Lexapro Forms and Doses
Lexapro comes in its name-brand form, and it can also be prescribed as the generic escitalopram. The generic form still has all of the same properties, typically with the added benefit of being less expensive. They are both taken orally in the form of a tablet.
Lexapro comes in three different dosages, 5 mg, 10 mg, and 20 mg. It is often taken once daily, but the exact dosage and frequency of administration may vary depending on your specific needs and your instructions from your healthcare provider. Lexapro can also be prescribed in a variety of quantities—30, 45, 60, 90, or 135 tablets.
Conditions Lexapro Treats
Lexapro is effective in treating symptoms of depression and anxiety, but it can also have some off-label uses. Off-label use is when a medication is prescribed for a condition it is not FDA-approved to treat. FDA approval takes time and resources that make approving every medication’s use difficult.
Your healthcare provider can ethically and safely prescribe off-label prescriptions that have been proven to alleviate symptoms. To understand the full range of Lexapro’s effectiveness, it’s worth evaluating how it can affect both anxiety and depression, as well as insomnia.
Most SSRIs are not meant to treat anxiety; however, Lexapro has proven particularly effective at reducing the severity of anxiety symptoms. While anxiety can be caused by various other neurotransmitter deficiencies, it is often a result of lowered serotonin levels, so an SSRI like Lexapro can help decrease a person’s persistent nervousness and tendency toward panic.
Lexapro’s serotonin-restoring ability is especially effective at treating depression, as the neurotransmitter is essential to regulating a person’s mood. Depression is marked by persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, so altering how the brain uses serotonin with Lexapro can help contribute to a greater sense of well-being.
Lexapro can be prescribed off-label to treat insomnia. Perimenopausal and menopausal women have demonstrated improvements in the quality of their sleep after taking Lexapro, and although these effects are largely limited to this group, it can nevertheless be a valuable resource for women looking for insomnia relief during this time in their lives.
Generic escitalopram is a relatively inexpensive medication, much like other SSRIs, often costing as little as $13 for 30 tablets of the 10 mg dosage.
Brand name Lexapro can be much more expensive, costing as much as $533 for the same dosage and quantity of medication. This makes it much more financially viable to opt for the generic form.
Most insurance plans are far more likely to cover escitalopram than Lexapro. Contact your insurance company to see which they more thoroughly cover.
Lexapro Side Effects
Like most depression and anxiety medications, Lexapro has some side effects, which often resolve after the first few weeks of taking it. If, however, you experience persistent or worsening side effects, contact your medical provider to discuss adjusting your dose or changing medications.
Some of the most common side effects include:
- Dizziness and drowsiness
- Weakness, shakiness, or sweating
- Loss of appetite or nausea
- Dry mouth
- Unexplained weight changes
- Decreased sex drive or impotence
- Difficulty with orgasms
The following side effects are less common but more serious. If you experience any of these side effects, contact your healthcare provider immediately:
- Abdominal pain or bleeding
- Allergic reaction
- Blurred or tunnel vision
- Abnormal dreams or decreased focus
- Chest pain or irregular heartbeat
- Eye pain, swelling, or halos around lights
- Euphoria, depression, or unusual behavior
- Headache, confusion, or slurred speech
- Heartburn or vomiting
- Hot flashes
- Severe weakness or dizziness
- Feeling unsteady or uncoordinated
- Sweating and tremors
- Rigid muscles
If you choose to stop taking Lexapro, consult with your healthcare provider beforehand in order to avoid any negative withdrawal symptoms. They’ll be able to help you taper off the medication safely.
Lexapro Warnings for Use
Individuals with certain conditions or the potential for specific conditions should use extreme caution when taking Lexapro. The most common contraindicated conditions include:
- Liver or kidney problems
- Heart problems
- Seizures or convulsions
- Bipolar disorder
- Low sodium levels in the blood
- High blood pressure
- History of stroke
- Bleeding problems
Another serious side effect of taking Lexapro can be an increased risk of serotonin syndrome, which can be fatal if left untreated. Serotonin syndrome occurs when there’s too much serotonin in your system due to taking serotonin-enhancing medications. If you have any of the following symptoms of serotonin syndrome, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
- Muscle rigidity
Additionally, if you notice an increase in thoughts of suicide or self-harm, or observe changes in behavior, contact your healthcare provider or call the suicide helpline at 988.
Finally, those who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant should not take Lexapro. Discuss your medical history in detail with your healthcare provider so they can determine whether Lexapro, Zoloft or another medication is right for you.
When taking Lexapro, it’s imperative to exercise caution if you are currently taking or plan to take any other medications. Many drugs should not be taken with Lexapro for a variety of reasons, so be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before taking any additional medications alongside Lexapro.
Some of the drugs you should avoid taking while on Lexapro include:
What Is Zoloft?
Zoloft, like Lexapro, is an SSRI used to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental health conditions. Zoloft helps prolong the presence of serotonin in the brain before it’s absorbed by neurons.
Zoloft Forms and Doses
Zoloft can be prescribed in its name-brand form, or your healthcare provider may suggest the generic sertraline as a cheaper alternative. Both medications come in the form of tablets that are administered orally.
Zoloft comes in three dosages, 25 mg, 50 mg, or 100 mg. It is typically taken once a day, and it is recommended that you take it in the morning if you already have difficulty sleeping. Zoloft can be prescribed in quantities of 30, 45, 60, 90, or 180 tablets.
Conditions Zoloft Treats
Zoloft is effective in treating mental health conditions tied to lowered serotonin levels. Similar to Lexapro, it can also have some off-label uses for individuals who don’t explicitly suffer from anxiety or depression. By evaluating Zoloft’s effects on anxiety, depression, and insomnia, those looking for relief can get a grasp on how it may ease their symptoms.
Zoloft has proven to be effective at treating both social anxiety disorder and panic disorder, which are both associated with lowered serotonin levels. By blocking the reuptake of serotonin, the neurotransmitter remains active in the brain for longer and contributes to a greater sense of emotional stability and ease in social situations in particular.
In addition to treating anxiety, Zoloft is also an effective treatment for depression. Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter for mood regulation, which is why lowered serotonin levels result in feelings of despair associated with depression. By increasing serotonin levels, Zoloft can help stabilize your mood and decrease the overall severity of depression symptoms.
Zoloft’s effectiveness at treating insomnia is not entirely clear, as it can improve or worsen your sleep quality. Considering SSRIs, in general, can increase energy levels, if Zoloft is taken too late in the day, it may prevent you from falling asleep. Zoloft can also have the opposite effect, as increased serotonin levels may help you relax and fall asleep easier.
Generic sertraline is relatively inexpensive, costing as little as $10 for 30 of the 100 mg tablets. Similar to Lexapro, the name-brand Zoloft is significantly more expensive, costing as much as $510 for the same amount of medication.
There is no difference in effectiveness between the generic and name-brand medications, and insurance is far more likely to cover the generic form of the drug.
Zoloft Side Effects
Those taking Zoloft may experience side effects ranging from mild to severe. If your side effects last for an extended period or become too overwhelming to manage, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Common side effects of Zoloft include:
- Drowsiness or tiredness
- Feeling agitated or anxious
- Indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, or loss of appetite
- Sweating, tremors, or shaking
- Decreased sex drive
- Impotence or difficulty orgasming
Zoloft may also cause some severe side effects. If you experience any of the following, seek medical attention right away:
- Seizures or convulsions
- Blurred vision or tunnel vision
- Eye pain or swelling
- Confusion or memory problems
- Severe weakness or feeling unsteady
- Racing thoughts or increased energy
- Unusual risk-taking behavior
- Extreme happiness
- Irritability or unusually talkative
You should always take Zoloft exactly as directed. If you wish to stop taking Zoloft, speak with your healthcare provider to determine the safest way to wean yourself off the medication.
Zoloft Warnings for Use
Discuss your full medical history with your medical provider so they can prescribe the anxiety or depression medication that’s right for you. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about your allergies before taking Zoloft. Even if you’re not allergic to the medication itself, you may be allergic to one or more of the inactive ingredients.
Tell your healthcare provider if you or your family has a history of any of the following conditions:
- Bipolar disorder
- Bleeding problems
- Liver disease
- Seizure disorders
- Thyroid disease
- Angle-closure type glaucoma
Additionally, if you experience any changes in behavior, including thoughts of self-harm, contact your healthcare provider. It’s also important to make sure you’re not potassium or magnesium deficient, as this raises your chance of developing an arrhythmic heart condition on Zoloft.
Zoloft may have negative drug interactions with other medications, substances, or supplements. Make sure to disclose all medications and supplements to your healthcare provider before taking Zoloft.
Contraindicated medications include:
- Ibuprofen, naproxen, and all other NSAIDs
- Warfarin and dabigatran
- Other SSRIs or SNRIs
- Sleep aids
- Opiate-based painkillers or cough suppressants
- MAOIs, which may cause a fatal interaction
Contraindicated supplements include:
- St. John’s wort
Other contraindicated substances include:
- MDMA (ecstasy)
Before prescribing Zoloft, your healthcare provider will discuss your medical history, your current medications, and any other considerations that may impact the drug’s ability to help you.
Which Anxiety or Depression Medication Should I Take?
When deciding between Lexapro and Zoloft, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider to help determine which one is right for you. While both medications offer similar benefits in terms of how they help treat generalized anxiety disorder and depression, not everyone will react the same when taking them.
Klarity Can Help You Get Help for Anxiety or Depression
When you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, the last thing you need is to jump through hoops to access the right medications for your symptoms.
At Klarity, we connect you with board-certified medical professionals qualified to diagnose and treat your anxiety and depression symptoms online if necessary. Schedule an appointment today, and within 48 hours, we’ll connect you with a licensed mental healthcare provider who will prioritize you and your needs.
Frequently Asked Questions About Lexapro and Zoloft
Is Lexapro or Zoloft Better for Treating Anxiety and Depression?
If your anxiety or depression symptoms are connected to post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, then Zoloft may be able to provide more comprehensive relief. Your healthcare provider can help you decide based on your medical history and specific mental health needs.
Which Has Fewer Side Effects — Lexapro or Zoloft?
Lexapro and Zoloft have similar side effects, but Lexapro has fewer side effects overall. Not everyone responds to Lexapro in the same way, so if you are experiencing severe side effects, you may need to work with your medical provider and switch to another medication.
Can I Drive on Lexapro?
When you first start taking Lexapro, it is recommended that you avoid driving until you understand how the medication affects you. Some people experience drowsiness or slower reaction time when taking Lexapro, which can make driving dangerous. Discuss all potential side effects with your healthcare provider so they can help you choose the best medication.
Can I Drive on Zoloft?
Driving on Zoloft poses the same risks as Lexapro, as the medication can cause you to feel sleepy and reduce your alertness. Be careful to take note of how Zoloft affects you before getting behind the wheel.
Can I Drink Alcohol While Taking Lexapro or Zoloft?
While taking most antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications, it is recommended that you don’t drink alcohol. If you do, you may experience worsened drowsiness and coordination or more pronounced negative side effects. Notify your healthcare provider if you regularly drink before getting a prescription for Lexapro or Zoloft.
How Long Does It Take for Zoloft to Work?
Zoloft doesn’t take effect right away, with most people only experiencing marginal improvements to their overall well-being after two weeks of taking the medication. After six to eight weeks, you should begin to notice a positive change in depression symptoms overall.
How Long Does It Take for Lexapro to Work?
Lexapro follows a similar timetable as Zoloft, with most people only experiencing minimal changes in their mood after about two weeks. Some people may notice a marked improvement in as little as a month, but the full range of positive effects usually doesn’t materialize until eight weeks in.
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