Citalopram vs. Escitalopram

What's the Difference?

Citalopram and Escitalopram are both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) commonly used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. While they belong to the same class of medications and have similar mechanisms of action, there are some differences between the two. Escitalopram is the active enantiomer of citalopram, meaning it is a more refined version of the drug. It is believed to be more potent and have a faster onset of action compared to citalopram. Additionally, escitalopram is generally considered to have fewer side effects and drug interactions than citalopram. However, individual responses to these medications may vary, and the choice between citalopram and escitalopram should be based on the specific needs and preferences of the patient, as well as the guidance of a healthcare professional.


Generic NameCitalopramEscitalopram
Brand NameCelexaLexapro
Drug ClassSelective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI)Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI)
IndicationsTreatment of depression, panic disorder, and anxiety disordersTreatment of depression and generalized anxiety disorder
UsageOral tabletsOral tablets
Half-lifeApproximately 35 hoursApproximately 27-32 hours
Side EffectsNausea, dry mouth, drowsiness, insomnia, sweatingNausea, dry mouth, drowsiness, insomnia, sweating
ContraindicationsHypersensitivity, concurrent use with MAO inhibitorsHypersensitivity, concurrent use with MAO inhibitors

Further Detail


Citalopram and escitalopram are both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) commonly prescribed to treat depression and anxiety disorders. While they share similarities in their mechanism of action and therapeutic effects, there are important differences between these two medications that patients and healthcare professionals should be aware of. In this article, we will explore the attributes of citalopram and escitalopram, including their chemical structure, approved indications, side effects, and potential drug interactions.

Chemical Structure

Citalopram and escitalopram are both derived from the same parent compound, known as racemic citalopram. However, the key distinction lies in their stereochemistry. Citalopram is a racemic mixture of two enantiomers, R-citalopram and S-citalopram, whereas escitalopram is the S-enantiomer of citalopram. This means that escitalopram contains only the active component of citalopram, which is believed to contribute to its increased potency and improved tolerability compared to citalopram.

Approved Indications

Both citalopram and escitalopram are approved by regulatory authorities, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) in adults. However, escitalopram has an additional indication for the treatment of panic disorder (PD) with or without agoraphobia. This expanded indication may make escitalopram a preferred choice for patients with comorbid panic disorder.

Therapeutic Efficacy

When it comes to the efficacy of citalopram and escitalopram, clinical studies have shown that both medications are effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, some evidence suggests that escitalopram may have a slight advantage in terms of overall response rates and remission rates compared to citalopram. This may be attributed to the increased potency of escitalopram due to its selective S-enantiomer formulation.

Side Effects

Like all medications, citalopram and escitalopram can cause side effects. Common side effects associated with both drugs include nausea, dry mouth, drowsiness, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction. However, it is worth noting that individual responses to these medications can vary, and some patients may experience different side effects or varying degrees of severity. It is important to discuss any concerns or side effects with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of action.

Drug Interactions

Both citalopram and escitalopram can interact with other medications, potentially leading to adverse effects or reduced efficacy. These medications should not be taken concurrently with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) due to the risk of serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition characterized by agitation, confusion, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure. Additionally, both drugs may interact with other serotonergic agents, such as triptans, tramadol, and certain herbal supplements. It is crucial to inform healthcare providers about all medications, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements, to avoid potential drug interactions.

Dosing and Availability

Citalopram and escitalopram are available in various strengths, allowing for flexible dosing based on individual patient needs. However, it is important to note that the recommended starting and maximum doses may differ between the two medications. For example, the usual starting dose of citalopram for adults with depression is 20 mg per day, while the starting dose for escitalopram is typically lower at 10 mg per day. The maximum daily dose of citalopram is 40 mg, whereas the maximum daily dose of escitalopram is 20 mg. It is essential to follow the prescribed dosing instructions and consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate dosage adjustments.

Generic Availability and Cost

Both citalopram and escitalopram are available as generic medications, which can offer cost savings compared to their brand-name counterparts. However, it is worth noting that the cost of generic medications can vary depending on the manufacturer and the specific pharmacy. Patients should consult with their healthcare provider or pharmacist to explore the most cost-effective options available to them.


In summary, citalopram and escitalopram are closely related medications that share similarities in their mechanism of action and therapeutic effects. However, the key differences lie in their chemical structure, approved indications, potential efficacy, side effect profiles, and drug interactions. While both medications can be effective in treating depression and anxiety disorders, healthcare professionals should consider individual patient characteristics and preferences when selecting the most appropriate medication. By understanding the attributes of citalopram and escitalopram, patients and healthcare professionals can make informed decisions to optimize treatment outcomes and improve the overall well-being of individuals suffering from these conditions.

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