Escitalopram and Memory: How it Affects the Brain

Escitalopram, also known by its brand name Lexapro, is a commonly prescribed medication used to treat major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Both anxiety and depression are extremely common mental health conditions that affect a significant portion of the American population. Although experiencing some nerves before a test or feeling depressed if you didn’t get a job are normal human emotions, the effects may be amplified for others dealing with either condition.

Major depressive disorder is a diagnosable condition that’s known as a mood disorder. It can lead to prolonged symptoms of overwhelming sadness, loss of appetite, low energy, and losing interest in activities that once brought pleasure or joy. When left untreated, it can lead to severe health complications and even put your life at risk. Suicide is a side effect of depression, and seeking help is crucial. Fortunately, treatments like exercise, therapy, diet, and medications are widely available. 

According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), an estimated 17.3 million American adults over the age of 18 struggle with depression, equating to seven percent of all adults in the United States. This is a significant portion of the population, leading to a lot of prescriptions for drugs like escitalopram to be administered. An estimated 25,978,773 prescriptions were written for the medication in 2018. 

Despite the effectiveness of a drug like escitalopram, you might wonder if the drug can lead to any side effects. Does it affect memory? How does it affect the brain? Those are important questions to ask before using prescription medication. Let’s take a more in-depth look at escitalopram and how it affects the brain. 

Escitalopram is an oral medication used to treat depression and generalized anxiety disorder. It belongs to a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which help increase the amount of serotonin in our brain and maintain mental balance. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that carries signals between neurons. 

SSRI drugs like escitalopram block the reabsorption of serotonin into neurons, helping those who don’t produce the neurotransmitter naturally. SSRIs help ease the symptoms of moderate to severe depression and typically have very few side effects. 

Despite being generally harmless in those who use it, escitalopram has been known to cause suicidal thoughts in younger adults who use the medication. Unfortunately, it can also cause other side effects.

Escitalopram Side Effects

Despite its effectiveness in treating depression, escitalopram use can lead to moderate or severe side effects. We all process medication differently, so one person in the family may not experience any side effects while someone else encounters severe side effects. You must report any side effects to your physician, which can help you determine if the risks outweigh the benefits. The most commonly reported escitalopram side effects include the following:

  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Ejaculatory disorder
  • Delayed ejaculation
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased libido
  • Dyspepsia
  • Diaphoresis 

As was mentioned above, antidepressants can also lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors in adolescents and young adults struggling with depression or other psychiatric conditions. Along with the wanted effects, it can also produce a host of unwanted effects, even if it’s helping with your depression. It’s vital to note that you won’t experience all of these effects, but you might require medical attention if you have some of them. Speak with the prescribing physician immediately if you experience any of the following less common side effects. 

  • Severe nausea or vomiting
  • Coma
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions
  • Increased thirst
  • Decreased urine output
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Migraine headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle pain or cramps
  • Swelling of the hands, ankles, or face
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness

Although some of these may occur and won’t require medical attention, other side effects will lessen as our bodies acclimate to the drug in our system. The prescribing physician will help you prevent and reduce some of these side effects. If you feel uncomfortable, you must reach out to them immediately to determine the best course of action. If you’re not feeling right, you must reach out to the doctor so they can adequately treat you. Other common escitalopram side effects include the following:

  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss in sexual ability, desire, drive, or performance
  • Ejaculation delay
  • Heartburn
  • Gas in the stomach

memory and escitalopram

Unfortunately, using drugs like escitalopram may lead to undesirable side effects like memory loss. It may leave you to wonder – is it worth using an antidepressant? Well, that’s dependent on how heavily it affects you. If you’re severely depressed and contemplating suicide and this medication improves your overall quality of life, then yes, the benefits outweigh the risks. However, if you’re battling mild depression, it may be time to consider a more alternative means of treating the condition instead of seeking chemical relief. 

So, how does this medication affect your memory? Some prescription antidepressants have been linked to interfering with our memory or causing us to lose it altogether. Escitalopram has been found to reduce the levels of sodium in our blood in those who are over the age of 65. Low sodium levels are linked to memory issues and confusion, and if someone takes too much of the medication, they can also be forgetful. 

Other studies from Loyola University Medical Center researchers discovered that when treating individuals with depression who took escitalopram, it caused levels of two neurotoxic compounds connected with dementia to drop significantly, meaning that the drug could actually prevent memory loss. More studies are needed to look into these findings. 

Escitalopram is a well-tolerated and commonly prescribed medication for those battling depression. According to those in the medical community, it’s a drug that slows down the functioning of the brain, and it’s not linked to short-term memory loss. However, various studies haven’t produced concrete results about the effects on the brain. If you’re concerned with how this drug is affecting you, speak with your doctor about alternative treatment options. 

If you’re taking your symptoms of depression seriously but don’t want to go the chemical relief route, there are natural ways to support your mental health. You should always consult with a professional before trying something new in case they decide on a better path for you. With that said, the following are steps you can take to manage depression without medication. 

Drink Less Caffeine

Despite caffeine’s wide availability in almost everything, it can disrupt sleep patterns and cause you to feel depressed. It’s ok to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee in the morning, but don’t drink later in the afternoon. If you have an urge, take a walk around the block instead. 

Get More Sleep

How you feel and the amount of sleep you get each night will go hand in hand. If you only manage to get a few hours of sleep, you’re bound to feel bad and be short the next day. If you’re battling depression, you know it’s hard to get in a normal sleeping pattern, and sleep experts suggest trying to get into “good sleep hygiene.” This means you wake up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time each night. You need a relaxing routine that doesn’t involve scrolling through social media or watching TV before bed. Calm your mind. 

Exercise More Often 

How you feel and the amount of looking in the mirror and feeling good about yourself will contribute to a decrease in depression. Since it has to do with a chemical imbalance, exercising can help you naturally stimulate endorphins in your brain that cause you to feel better. When we say exercise more, it doesn’t mean training for a marathon or a long sports season. It means putting in at least 30 minutes of low intensive activity each day to improve mood. Go outdoors and get fresh air. 

Physical activity does more than help existing depression; it can help prevent new depression from forming as well. If you’re battling depression, it might be hard to exercise if you’re not in the mood. A lack of energy and low mood is a symptom of depression, and you’ll likely be too tired to get up and be active. You can overcome this by inviting over friends and family to help, reminding yourself of the benefits, and starting small.

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