Celexa is a prescription medication typically used to treat symptoms of depression. Doctors may also use it for anxiety disorders.
In this article, we’ll explore how Celexa may be effective for anxiety, potential side effects, how to take it, and other ways to support anxiety care.
What is Celexa?
Celexa (citalopram hydrobromide) is an FDA-approved antidepressant medication used to treat adults who have been diagnosed with depression.
While the FDA has not approved Celexa for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), your doctor may prescribe it for this reason, which is known as “off-label” use.
Celexa belongs to a class of medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI).
SSRIs work to increase the amount of serotonin the brain by slowing the rate at which serotonin is cleared.
Serotonin is an important brain chemical that is partially responsible for regulating your mood, sleep, and metabolism.
Giving the brain more access to serotonin can result in an improved mood…which means it can be beneficial for both anxiety and depression.
Celexa is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD) or other depression-related symptoms or conditions.
It is also used off-label for other purposes, including anxiety.
How Celexa works
Celexa affects how your central nervous system (CNS) processes serotonin.
Serotonin is a brain chemical that helps regulate mood, sleep, and metabolism.
As an SSRI, Celexa prevents the reuptake or clearance of serotonin by neurons in the brain, which means that your brain has more access to serotonin.
Additionally, while Celexa affects serotonin, it doesn’t effect other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and dopamine, making it a highly selective medication and resulting in fever unwanted side effects than some other SSRIs.
Can Celexa Treat Anxiety?
While the FDA has not specifically approved Celexa for treating anxiety, doctors have been using Celexa and other SSRIs off-label to successfully treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and other forms of anxiety, as well as other imbalances in the brain.
Celexa may produce feelings of calm in the brain by increasing serotonin levels, which may help to reduce feelings of anxiety or panic.
Off-label uses of Celexa
There are several common off-label uses of Celexa, in addition to GAD, which include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- Binge eating disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
What the research says
While Celexa has not been FDA-approved specifically for anxiety, research is promising.
In a small 12-week trial that used a dose range of 10-60 mg per day of Celexa, all of the study subjects experienced partial or full improvement in their anxiety symptoms.
This led to an improvement r in both social and occupational function. Notably, several patients felt better on Celexa than they did with previous SSRI trials.
Additionally, even at lower doses of 20-30 mg, Celexa was able to reduce anxiety levels in older adults who live in a community home setting, where anxiety is more frequently noted.
Why your doctor may prefer Celexa
Your doctor will select a medication for anxiety based on your health conditions, your symptoms, other medications you are taking, and many other factors.
Some doctors prefer Celexa because it is a highly selective SSRI, more so than other medications in this drug class, and it may lead to fewer changes to other neurotransmitters.
This may lead to fewer long-term side effects and more of the desired result.
Other Treatments for Anxiety
Your doctor has a variety of ways to treat anxiety.
They may recommend more than one way to address your symptoms.
There are many different types of medications that can address symptoms associated with anxiety disorders.
Your doctor will prescribe the one that they believe will be most effective.
Anxiety medications include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic anxiety medications (TCAs)
- Beta blockers
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Certain types of therapy have been shown to be effective for anxiety disorders.
What works for you may not work for everyone else, and vice versa.
Work with your doctor or therapist to communicate what helps and what doesn’t.
As with medication, therapy may take some time to reach the desired effects.
Therapies that may support people with anxiety include:
- Meditation and breathing exercises
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR)
Lifestyle changes may help some people lessen the severity of anxiety or panic attacks.
Additionally, maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle is good for overall mood support and health, and will support other treatments for anxiety disorders.
Lifestyle changes to consider include:
- Get regular physical activity
- Cut back on caffeine
- Don’t smoke
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Try herbal teas or supplements
- Use a weighted blanket
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a nutritionally balanced diet
- Spend time outdoors
Celexa Side Effects
Common side effects may resolve after your body adjusts to the medication.
Always inform your doctor if you notice new or worsening side effects or have concerns about how you feel while taking Celexa.
Around 10% of patients may experience side effects from Celexa.
Common side effects
Celexa is generally well-tolerated, but may cause some side effects, especially as you adjust to taking it as a new medication.
Common Celexa side effects include:
Some side effects occur more frequently when taking higher doses of Celexa. These may include:
Severe side effects
Less commonly, severe side effects of Celexa may include:
- Serotonin syndrome
- Myocardial infarction
- Cerebrovascular accident
- Suicidal thoughts
How to Take Celexa
Celexa is available as a tablet or a liquid. Tablets come in 10, 20, or 40 mg tablets. The liquid dosage is 2 mg per mL.
This medication is taken one time per day at the same time, either morning or evening.
Your doctor and pharmacist will clearly explain your dosage and how to take it.
If you miss a dose of Celexa, take it as soon as you remember that you have missed it.
If you are closer to your next dose, skip the missed dose and resume your normal schedule with the next one.
Do not double up on Celexa doses.
How long does Celexa take to work?
It takes a week of consistently taking Celexa before your body reaches a steady concentration of the medication.
After that, like with other SSRIs, it may take up to six to eight weeks before you will experience the full effects of taking the medication.
All antidepressants come with black box warnings.
While rare, they can increase the risk for self-harm or suicide in some people.
If you or someone you love are taking an antidepressant, including Celexa, you should watch for the following signs:
- Agitation, aggression, or hostility
- Increased or worsening anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Unusual changes in behavior
- Suicidal thoughts or discussion
- Manic behavior
All of these symptoms, or other feelings of concern, should be reported immediately to health care providers.
If you or someone you know is having any thoughts of hurting themselves or others, please make sure that they are safe and take them to the ER.
If you’re having a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also get free 24/7 support from a suicide and crisis expert by calling or texting 988. If you’d prefer to chat online, you can chat with a suicide and crisis expert by visiting the Lifeline Chat.
Do not stop taking Celexa suddenly. Antidepressants require tapering to prevent serious reactions or withdrawal.
If you need to stop taking it, your doctor will work with you to create a tapering schedule.
This will minimize negative effects and the potential for serious side effects.
Celexa has serious interactions with another class of drugs known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
People who are taking pimozide should not take Celexa.
Always tell your healthcare provider any other drugs, supplements, or OTC medications that you are taking.
People who are older than age 60 and those who have decreased liver function will experience higher concentrations of Celexa for longer periods of time.
If you have liver problems, make sure that your prescribing physician knows.
Dosage recommendations are lower for older adults and for liver problems, and it may take longer for it to clear your system in these cases.
Celexa and other SSRIs may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you take aspirin, NSAID drugs, or anticoagulant drugs (warfarin, heparin, others).
If you take any type of blood-thinning medication or bruise or bleed easily, make sure that your health care provider knows before you start taking Celexa.
How K Health Can Help
Think you might need a prescription for Celexa (citalopram)?
K Health has clinicians standing by 24/7 to evaluate your symptoms and determine if citalopram is right for you.
Get started with our free assessment, which will tell you in minutes if treatment could be a good fit. If yes, we’ll connect you right to a clinician who can prescribe medication and have it shipped right to your door.
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.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Treatment of generalized anxiety disorder with citalopram. (2002).
A review of citalopram dose restrictions in the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders in older adults. (2019).
The diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders. (2018).
The Role of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Medicine: Addressing the Psychological and Physical Symptoms Stemming from Adverse Life Experiences. (2014).
Treatment of anxiety disorders. (2017).