Celexa Review: Can the Pill Cure Depression?

Celexa Review: Can the Pill Cure Depression?


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​​Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to prescription medication.

Celexa is a drug that's FDA-approved for the treatment of depression and anxiety. The generic form of the drug is called citalopram, and we will use these two terms interchangeably throughout this article because they refer to the same active chemical compound.

But is Celexa actually proven to treat both depression and anxiety? Is it more effective or one or the other? What are the side effects of Celexa? And how do real users describe its effects?

In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we review clinical studies on Celexa to determine if it's effective and safe, document its side effects, compare it to two other commonly-prescribed antidepressants Lexapro and Zoloft, and share real, unsponsored user reviews of Celexa.

How Much Depression and Anxiety Relief Does Celexa Provide?

Celexa has been studied extensively in medical trials. It’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1998.

A medical review from 2000 found that Celexa was significantly more effective for depression than placebo, and was comparably effective to other first-line depression drugs.

A more recent meta-study, published in the Journal of Stroke & Cerebrovascular Diseases, analyzed data from 20 clinical trials on Celexa for treating depression in patients who had experienced a stroke.

Celexa was shown to be 4% more effective for reducing depression symptoms than other SSRI drugs, and 1% more effective than SNRI drugs.

One medical study compared the effectiveness of Celexa with other leading antidepressants. While all of the drugs reviewed helped treat depression on average, there were some interesting results. 

Celexa was shown to be “significantly less effective” than escitalopram (brand name Lexapro) but more effective than paroxetine (brand name Paxil).

Celexa is also approved to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is the medical classification for persistent anxious thoughts that are disproportional to events in the patient's life (as an example, it's somewhat normal for an individual to be extremely stressed during a breakup, but if a patient was feeling similar stress levels during a regular day they may be diagnosed with GAD).

A 2002 meta-study found that Celexa reduced anxiety symptoms by 72% after 12 weeks of treatment. This is a significant decrease.

We will conclude that Celexa is effective for reducing symptoms of both depression and anxiety. In our opinion, the data related to anxiety is more impressive than the data related to depression.

Celexa Side Effects

Celexa black box warning

As shown in the "black box" warning label above (which is the most severe category of warning issued by the FDA), Celexa may increase the risk of suicide in pediatric and young adult patients.

A review of the suicide risk of various medications published in the Pharmaceuticals journal found that Celexa nearly doubled the risk, with 7.1% of Celexa users experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors compared to only 3.6% of users taking placebo.

The FDA published a safety warning about the risk of Celexa causing abnormal heart rhythms. The agency recommended the drug not be used at doses higher than 40 milligrams (mg) daily to minimize this risk.

The side effects listed above are rare. According to medical studies, the most common side effects of Celexa are more mild in nature: nausea, sleepiness, dry mouth, and increased sweating.

Given the increased risk of suicidality, it may be beneficial for young adults and guardians of adolescents to speak with their doctor about alternative medications that do not increase this risk.

Real, Unsponsored User Review of Celexa

One of the most popular YouTube reviews of Celexa for anxiety comes from a channel called "Botanical Queens." The creator shares her experience using Celexa for anxiety after one month, including benefits and side effects of the drug.

The video is unsponsored:

Celexa Vs. Lexapro

Patients are often curious about whether Celexa or Lexapro is more effective, given that these are two of the most commonly-prescribed antidepressants.

We referenced in the research review section how Lexapro was shown to be more effective than Celexa for depression, and there have actually been clinical trials directly comparing the two drugs.

One clinical trial comparing Celexa and Lexapro for major depressive disorder found that Lexapro was significantly more effective, and that the effects were observable in the data as early as week 1.

Another comparative study published in the Current Medical Research and Opinion journal showed that elderly patients taking Lexapro were significantly less likely to be hospitalized, and were less likely to discontinue treatment. This suggests that Lexapro has a more favorable safety profile.

A 2011 meta-analysis analyzed eight clinical trials comparing Celexa and Lexapro and concluded that Lexapro was more effective as an antidepressant.

Based on the available research, we would recommend that patients speak with their doctor about Lexapro instead of Celexa.

Is Celexa Generic a Better Option?

The generic form of Celexa is called citalopram. Purchasing generic drugs is often cheaper than buying the brand-name drug, but patients are often curious about whether one is more effective than the other.

A 2016 database study analyzed results from over 1 million patients and compared the safety and efficacy of brand name drugs versus their generic alternatives. The researchers found that there was no difference on average. This suggests that the generic citalopram is a more logical option than Celexa, given that it should be just as effective but may be cheaper.

SingleCare currently reports the average retail price for Celexa to be $350.73, while the average retail price for citalopram is just $40.38.

We would recommend that patients speak with their doctor about citalopram over Celexa if they are considering this medication.

Celexa Vs. Zoloft

Zoloft is an antidepressant in the same drug class as Celexa (SSRI), so patients often wonder which is more effective. We published an extensive breakdown of the clinical research behind Zoloft in our recent Zoloft reviews article for those who are interested.

These two drugs have been directly compared in clinical studies.

A medical review published in the Human Psychopharmacology journal found that Celexa was more effective than Zoloft on average. After six weeks of treatment, 40% of Celexa patients had responded to treatment (meaning they experienced symptom reduction or elimination) compared to only 31% of Zoloft patients.

Another comparative study on Zoloft and Celexa for patients with major depression found that Celexa was more effective, but not to a statistically significant degree. 81% of participants responded favorably to Celexa, while 76% responded favorably to Zoloft.

Based on clinical research, we would recommend that patients speak with their doctor about Celexa rather than Zoloft.

Does Celexa Cause Withdrawals?

We cannot identify any large-scale medical studies proving that Celexa causes withdrawal symptoms when abruptly discontinued. One medical case report documented a woman who developed high blood pressure after quitting the drug, but there are millions of users of this drug annually so this does not necessarily prove much for the average patient.

Even if Celexa may not have as high of a withdrawal risk as other medications, we still recommend that patients speak with their doctor about setting up a tapering schedule if they plan on quitting Celexa, rather than abruptly stopping use. This can reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms and negative health effects.

A YouTube creator named Ashlee Symcox published a video explaining her withdrawal symptoms upon quitting Celexa:

How Does Celexa Work?

Celexa works by inhibiting reuptake of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that facilitates nerve signaling and proper brain function. Interestingly, the vast majority of serotonin is released into the gut and not the brain, which may explain why probiotics can benefit mental health. 

Inhibition of reuptake means that Celexa delays natural processing of serotonin by the body, resulting in artificially elevated levels of serotonin in the brain.

Since serotonin is shown in research to directly influence mood, this is thought to be the main biochemical pathway by which Celexa (and other SSRIs) are effective for treating depression. Depressed and anxious patients may have lower circulating levels of serotonin than neurotypical patients.

Our Mental Wellness Recommendation

We recommend a platform called Brightside to patients on a mental health journey. It's an online therapy and medication platform that connects patients with licensed therapists and doctors from the comfort of their home.

medical review published in the Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy journal found that online therapy was equally effective to in-person therapy for treating depression, anxiety and PTSD. Therapy may be a good first option for patients who want to avoid the side effects of medication.

Brightside also can connect patients with licensed psychiatrists that can prescribe medication. Some patients choose only therapy, some choose only medication, and some choose both. The brand reports that 86% of members feel significantly better within 12 weeks of treatment.

Patients with and without health insurance can use Brightside. For many patients with health insurance, treatment is entirely covered by insurance.

The cost for medication without health insurance is capped at $95/month and the cost for therapy without health insurance is capped at $299/month.

Interested patients can check out Brightside at this link to the brand's website.

Celexa User Reviews

Celexa has been reviewed over 800 times on Drugs.com, which is a website that allows prescription medication users to share their experience and rate the drug(s) they're taking.

The medication has an average rating of 7.4 out of 10 for treatment of anxiety, and 7.2 out of 10 for treatment of depression. Both scores are above average compared to most medications we've reviewed on Illuminate Health.

The top positive review of Celexa for depression comes from a user named "Lefty" who gave the drug a 10/10 rating and claims it significantly improved their quality of life:

"I was suffering severe depression when my child was diagnosed with cancer. I am in my early 50’s. I lost 25 pounds in a matter of weeks. I went to the doctor because I was in a constant state of trying not to cry. I have taken Celexa for a month, and I feel normal. I realize now that I have been suffering from at least mild depression and anxiety for years. I don’t remember feeling normal like this ever."

The top negative review of the drug for depression is written by a user named "Yikes" who gave it a 2/10 rating and claims it caused severe side effects:

"Month 5 I entered an unshakable state of numbness. I began sleeping through full days again. I was unable to feel empathy for others. After a year or so of all-consuming numbness, I began slipping. By the end of the 2nd year, I had spiraled into the darkest place I have ever been in my life. Suicide was the only thing on my mind. I had such violent intrusive thoughts that I could hardly sleep, I could hardly lay still even."

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

Celexa is effective for treating anxiety and depression, but it may cause rare and life-threatening side effects such as heart arrythmias and suicidal ideation in some patients.

Our review of medical research suggests that Celexa may be more effective for depression than Zoloft, but less effective than Lexapro. 

We would recommend that patients considering Celexa speak with their doctor about citalopram instead, as this is the generic version of the drug and should be just as effective but may be cheaper.

Celexa does not appear to be as high of a risk for withdrawal symptoms as other prescription antidepressants, but it still may cause withdrawals in some patients which is why setting up a tapering schedule with a licensed physician is a safer option than abruptly discontinuing use of the drug.




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