If you have been struggling with symptoms of major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), your doctor may prescribe you Celexa.
Celexa is a brand name version of citalopram, a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for depression, as well as panic disorders, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders.
After taking Celexa for a few weeks, you may begin to feel better. As your symptoms decrease, you may wonder if you even need the medication—and may want to stop taking it.
You should never stop taking an antidepressant suddenly unless directed to by your doctor. You may have strong withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking antidepressant medications, especially if you stop suddenly without weaning off. Being aware of what to expect when stopping Celexa can help you navigate this difficult period.
In this article, I’ll explain more about Celexa, including how it works, what it is prescribed for, and how long it takes to start working.
I’ll talk about how long Celexa stays in your system when you stop taking it, and what symptoms of withdrawal can look like. I’ll provide some tips for dealing with Celexa withdrawal, and tell you when to talk to your doctor.
What is Celexa?
Citalopram (Celexa) is a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. It is commonly prescribed for major depressive disorder (MDD), and works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. This boost in serotonin levels can improve your energy levels and feelings of well-being.
While it is an FDA-approved treatment for the symptoms of major depression, Celexa is also used off-label to treat anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorders, and eating disorders.
“Off-label” use is when a doctor prescribes a medication for a condition that is not specifically approved by the FDA; the doctor provides a justification for why the medication can help manage symptoms of this off-label condition. This is common practice.
How Celexa works
SSRIs like Celexa increase the levels of a chemical called serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a type of chemical used by your nervous system to carry messages in your body and brain.
When serotonin is present in the brain, it is associated with balanced mood.
In normal functioning, once serotonin has carried its message, the brain recycles it, a process called “reuptake.” In people with depression, it’s believed that too much reuptake happens.
SSRIs slow down the reuptake process so more serotonin is present in the brain, regulating your mood and anxiety.
Taking an SSRI for an extended period of time will cause your brain to become used to it, so if you stop the medication, your brain and body will need to adjust to the new levels.
When this happens, you might experience withdrawal symptoms. In order to avoid these symptoms, talk to your doctor about a plan for weaning off the medication.
How Long Does Celexa Take to Work?
After you take Celexa, the drug reaches its peak concentration in your blood within four hours. That doesn’t mean you’ll feel better within the first four hours of taking your first dose, though.
It usually takes a few weeks to feel the positive effects of Celexa, and for your body to adjust to any negative side effects. Starting on a small dose of the medication and building up slowly with your doctor’s guidance can help your body adjust properly.
Within the first 1-2 weeks, you may notice an improvement in your sleep, energy, and appetite. The changes in your physical symptoms are the first indicators that the medication is working.
Between 6-8 weeks after you start taking the medication, you may notice an improvement in your depressed mood and an increased interest in activities.
The “half-life” of a medication is the average amount of time it takes for half of the drug to leave your system. Celexa’s half-life is approximately 35 hours.
However, Celexa’s half-life may be longer for older individuals over 60 years old. The half-life could extend between 45.5 to 52.5 hours depending also on the specific dose.
If you have reduced liver function, studies have found that Celexa may last as much as double the time in your system. For most people, the antidepressant will be completely out of your system after a week.
Factors that Influence How Long Celexa Stays in Your System
Individual factors can affect how long Celexa stays in your system. On average, the medication leaves the body completely 10-14 days after the last dose was taken. About 99% of the drug will be out of your body within a week.
While this is the case for the majority of patients, it will ultimately depend on the individual. How quickly the drug leaves your system can be affected by your age, sex, weight, dosage, lifestyle, and other factors, such as any underlying medical conditions you may have.
Symptoms of Celexa Withdrawal
When going off most antidepressants, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. For most people, you may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms between three to six days after your last dose.
These symptoms may last up to a month, and range in severity among patients. Some withdrawal symptoms to look out for include:
- Digestive issues: You may experience nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, or a loss of appetite.
- Balance issues: Dizziness or lightheadedness can be felt when coming off Celexa. Take extra care when standing up.
- Flu-like symptoms: This could include headache, fatigue, muscle pain, and weakness.
- Sleep problems: You may have insomnia, nightmares, or unusual dreams.
- Changes in mood: Mood swings, along with periods of anxiety, agitation, panic, suicidal ideation, depression, irritability, or anger.
- Sensitivity to heat: You may become more sensitive to heat, experience excessive sweating, or become flushed easily.
- Lack of motor control: Tremors, shaking legs, muscle tension, or unsteady gait are all symptoms of Celexa withdrawal. You may also have difficulty controlling your speech.
- Strange sensations: You may experience unusual body sensations, such as pins and needles, ringing in the ears, strange tastes, or hypersensitivity to sound. You may have involuntary “brain zaps”—this feels like an electrical shock or shiver in your brain.
Tips for Coping with Celexa Withdrawal
To decrease the chances of having severe withdrawal symptoms, never stop taking an antidepressant suddenly.
Talk to your doctor about weaning off properly instead of abruptly stopping the medication.
Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing how severe your withdrawal symptoms may be when going off antidepressants. There is also no way of calculating how long this period will last.
The best way to cope with this is to make sure you go off the medication at a time when you are not under heavy work or family obligations.
Find a therapist with whom you can discuss coping techniques and ways to self-soothe irritability and improve your mood. Discussing your problems with a therapist can help relieve anxiety and reduce stress.
Follow the taper dosage
Drug tapering means that you don’t stop the medication abruptly. Instead, you wean yourself off the medication by lowering your dosage over a fixed period of time.
This can help your body adjust to the changes more gently. Talk to your doctor before stopping Celexa in order to come up with a tapering plan.
Keep in communication with your healthcare provider
You should always talk to your healthcare provider before stopping your antidepressant medication. They will be able to inform you of the possible side effects you may experience.
They will also be able to come up with an individualized weaning plan for you based on your current dose. Lowering your dose according to their instructions, and gradually tapering off the drug, will help you to minimize withdrawal symptoms
Eat right and exercise
Improve your mood and reduce stress by engaging in moderate physical activity at least three times a week. Eat healthy meals regularly to boost your immune system, aid your digestion, and improve your mood.
Try to maintain a routine with eating, exercise, and a regular bedtime. Avoid taking on more tasks than you need to, and don’t push yourself to do more if you are not feeling up to it.
When to See a Doctor
Going off antidepressants should be under medical guidance and supervision. Talk to your doctor before stopping citalopram or any other antidepressant.
They can advise you on the best course of action and warn you of the possible side effects of Celexa withdrawal. More than likely, your doctor will want to lower your dosage slowly and taper you off the drug.
Your doctor may prescribe you medications to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms, and they will be able to closely monitor your progress as Celexa leaves your system.
Your doctor may prescribe you another SSRI after you have stopped taking Celexa.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, engaging in risky behavior such as driving drunk or going on shopping sprees, or you have a return of severe depressive symptoms, call 9-1-1 for emergency help.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
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Celexa Label. (2022).
Citalopram (Celexa). (2020).