My Brain after Long Term Lexapro: Chemically Induced TBI

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Cerebral cortex after long term Lexapro
In December 2015, I was given Lexapro. I had taken Lexapro previously for 12 years, but because of abnormal blood chemistry and building side effects, my doctor suggested that I cease taking the medication. After five months without the drug, I was improving slightly, but because of life events, my doctor and I decided to begin taking Lexapro again. During the reinstatement of the drug, I immediately began to experience serious neurological reactions that I have come to describe as a brain kindling of sorts. It felt like my head was on fire chemically and electrically. Some of the symptoms that developed included: fatigue, confusion, eye pain, leg weakness, headaches, visual processing disturbances, coordination difficulties, lack of concentration, and short-term memory problems.

Within a few weeks of taking the medication, these symptoms were worsening but my physician was not concerned. In fact, he suggested what I was experiencing was normal and that I continue taking the medication. I did, for a while, until the side effects were so bad that I decided to stop. I published my story on Hormones Matter a year ago. You can read it here: A Kindled Brain: Long Term Lexapro Use Reactions. A year and dozens of doctors later, I have become completely disabled. This is a follow up to my story, told with much help from the editor of Hormones Matter.

Two Years Post Lexapro Damage

I no longer take Lexapro or other medications but the damage was done. I still cannot work, watch TV, read, drive or walk more than a few feet. I have had what seems like a two year long headache and severe vision processing issues. It is going to be another great Christmas at my house.

Though I received diagnoses of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Fibromyalgia they really were just symptoms of something bigger. Prior to the  CFS diagnosis, an MRI revealed white matter lesions and demyelination. The neurologist dismissed a Lexapro connection. Research suggests otherwise. In the summer of 2017, I was finally given a provisional diagnosis of Lexapro induced neurotoxicity. Just recently, the extent of the brain damage was shown on both on a quantitative electroencephalograph (QEEG) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) brain scans. Both neurotoxicity and brain injuries were identified by both tests and later confirmed again by additional physicians who reviewed the results independently.

QEEG Results

The QEEG is an EEG with a visual mapping component. It measures the electrical activity or signal transduction between electrodes placed in specific locations on the brain. My test results showed that in certain areas of the brain there was very little organized electrical activity and other areas where there was unusual amount of high activity. What that means is that in some areas of my brain, the signals are very low and essentially not sufficiently strong for the activities that need to be performed but in other areas of my brain, there was way too much electrical activity. Specifically, the report said:

“The patient was found to have a significant amount of low frequency (8-9 Hz) in the right posterior temporal (T6) area. There is an extreme amount of low beta (12-15 Hz) predominantly in the prefrontal and frontal areas that may interfere with executive functioning, organizing, decision making and may also account for fatigue. There is a very unusual amount of high activity for all measured frequencies (1-50 Hz) in the right posterior (O2) area, specifically in the right inferior occipital gyrus (Broadman areas 17, 18, and 19). This may result in sub-optimal functioning in visual processing of color, form, movement, visual perception and spatial processing.”

This was the first confirmation of the cognitive dysfunction that I have been living with for the last few years. Doctor after doctor told me that my symptoms were not real and somehow made up (and some still do, as the QEEG is used mainly in research circles and not always accepted in conventional medicine). The QEEG clearly showed the abnormal electrical activity underlying my symptoms. Next up, the SPECT scan, a test I had to fight for, because again, no one seems to believe that a drug like Lexapro could cause such damage.

SPECT Scans

SPECT imaging shows brain activity (blood flow, which represents local brain metabolism and energy use). The technology uses radiolabeled isotopes that are then reconstructed with algorithms to display in color 3-D images of brain activity. The images below are some of my brain scans. Regions displayed in blue represent a state of very low activity called hypoperfusion and those in red represent hyperperfusion – excessive activity.

SPECT scale
Figure 1. SPECT color coding scale.

 

CF spect scans
Figure 2. Brain activity after long term Lexapro use.

From my images, you can see several areas of both abnormally low and abnormally high activity with very little normal brain function anywhere. From the report:

  • At rest, the overall cortical activity was reduced in a diffuse, decreased, patchy pattern.
  • Focal areas of abnormal cortical hypoperfusion were noted in the bilateral anterior frontal (L>R), left posterolateral frontal, left orbitofrontal, right dorsolateral prefrontal, bilateral anterior and medial temporal (L>R), bilateral superior parietal and bilateral occipital areas.
  • Focal areas of abnormal subcortical hypoperfusion were noted in the anterior aspect of the pontine portion of the brainstem, bilateral caudate and right lentiform areas.
  • Focal areas of abnormally increased cortical perfusion were not noted.
  • Focal areas of abnormally increased subcortical perfusion were noted in the bilateral thalamic and left lentiform areas.

The doctors conclude:

“The nature (diffuse, patchy), location (cortical and subcortical), and pattern (involving all lobes of the brain) of these abnormalities is primarily consistent with the scientific [literature] pertaining to a toxic/hypoxic/neuroinflammatory process and the patient’s clinical history, as obtained, of a medication reaction which was received after the blind review. These results agree in large part with outside EEG data showing hypofrontality and NM report showing left frontal abnormality, likely not to be artefactual.”

What This Means

My brain is a mess. According to the Hormones Matter editor, the areas of low activity in the various regions of the prefrontal cortex would explain my difficulties executive function, things like planning, decision-making and lack of concentration, while the reduced activity in the temporal and occipital lobes would explain my memory and vision difficulties, respectively. The reduced brainstem activity would connect to my walking and balance difficulties, but also, poor to autonomic regulation (the autonomic nervous system controls all automatic bodily functions including things like breathing, heart rate, temperature control, digestion, sleep/wake cycles, etc.). The areas of my brain on hyperdrive may reflect compensatory reactions, last ditch efforts to kick start some of the underactive regions. The thalamus (plural thalami), in particular, acts as a relay station between the brainstem and the rest of the brain for motor, sensory signals and ‘emotional’ signals via its connections to the limbic system. Mine seem to be screaming ‘wake up’ to the rest of the brain.

Please be careful using these medications, particularly psych meds and especially when prescribed for minor issues like a fear of flying or work-related stage fright. If I knew then what I know now, I would have never taken Lexapro.

*TBI: traumatic brain injury

Update: Neurocognitive Testing

In October 2017, I had a battery of neurocognitive assessments. The results have only recently become available (March 2018). According to the report, the decrements in cognitive ability were consistent with the QEEG and SPECT results indicating probable neurotoxicity with brain damage. Some of the findings included:

  1. An approximately 9 point drop in IQ from premorbid (pre-medication reaction) levels.
  2. Impairment of perceptual reasoning, working memory, processing speed, and full scale IQ (FSIQ), which is now at the 7th percentile.
  3. Significant declines memory function including auditory memory, visual memory, visual working memory and immediate memory (2nd percentile).
  4. Significant decline in manual dexterity with performance below the 1st percentile.
  5. Severe decline in executive functioning.

According to the doctor’s assessment:

“The neuropsychological testing indicates disability from gainful employment for the foreseeable future. The results of this work is a diagnosis of Toxic Encephalopathy (ICD 10 G92); DSM-5 Substance/Mediation Induced Major Neurocognitive Disorder (ICD F13.97).”

He also indicates that

“…the abnormal neuropsychological findings consistent with neurotoxicity; personality testing consistent with neurotoxicity; abnormal advanced brain imaging and QEEG findings; and no other reasonable explanation for the claimant’s illness and resulting disability, in my opinion, Lexapro and associated drug interactions caused this neuropsychological decline.”

Again, I cannot stress strongly enough how dangerous these drugs are. Please consider my story before taking these medications.

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18 Comments

  1. Hello I got the same symptoms you have after ssri use. Im now 4 months off and my memory and sense of time is terrible.
    Do you also have visual snow?
    And the symptoms did they come gradual?
    Can you please reply.

  2. I was criticized on a website that I did not link my injury to scientific evidence that SSRIs can cause brain damage. There is a lot of info online that is legit and not “ghost written” by pharma or a paid off doctor. Such as this article that is probably best piece of info proving all my damage. It’s on the reliable NIH.gov website who is known to frown on pharma written articles. Also google SSRI induced dementia or medication induced mitochondrial Damage and much more will appear. Look up DrGrace Jackson’s book Drug Induced Dementia that links SSRIs to brain and Miri damage through brain scans and testing references and prior published research.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3334530/

  3. Who performed these tests for you? I suspect I am suffering from lexapro neurotoxicity and like the others I would like to prove it. Thank you

  4. I am considering taking Lexapro and am wondering if you ever tried weaning off of the medication during the years that you took it?

    1. Weaning off of it? Did you read the story, I have a brain injury from taking it. If you are considering taking it you missed the entire point of this story. Good luck.

      1. Why isn’t the name of the author/injured patients name noted anywhere? I fully, 100% believe all of it. I hope you sued the manufacturer and every doctor who pushed it on you over the years. Do no harm. Period.

  5. Hi C.F. I was on Lexapro for 10 years and Identify a lot with your story. I’m sure I have brain damage I just don’t know to what extent. I’m a writer and putting an article together has become next to impossible. (I’ve had to request help) Also I have most of the symptoms Kary Smith points out. I’d please like to ask you a couple of things. Where could I message you?

  6. Hello Cf I am in the same boat, how did you manage to get disability since antidepressant long term side effects are not aknowledged at all by conventional medecine? Also Qeeg are not aknowledged by doctors here in France. Thanks for your reply….

  7. I, too, would like to know what doctor or specialist did these studies and attributed the damage to the drug. I’ve suffered severely and have been disabled by Zoloft since 2001. MRIs show lesions. I have been diagnosed with all sorts of physical disorders and diseases, but no 2 doctors agree A few doctors have very subtly hinted that the drugs are the problem, but none will really follow up on it. I suspect they don’t want to be involved in a potentially litigious or messy case. The Cleveland clinic brain center turned me away as a patient when I gave a bit of my history.

    I’m down to 75lbs and bedridden.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  8. I am suffering from neurotoxicity due mainly to the benzodiazepine Klonopin. I took this medication as prescribed for 16 years. I want to know what type of dr eventually got you to these tests. I have seen multiple specialists in the past few years. I suffer from terrible cognitive impairment and emotional deregulation with violent panic attacks and trauma due to iatragenic injury. I am currently on SSDI for psychiatric illness that is actually trauma and neurotoxicity based. I am a single mom. I want these tests so I can prove what I have known for quite some time. How do I find the right specialist? Would it be a neuropsychiatrist? I’m lost in my search…

      1. Could you please message me? Ive been on ssris for 22 years…even going down 1mg a month triggers horrible insomnia, anxiety, ocd….just desperate…im on disability…

  9. Another example of drugs going wrong and doctors unwilling to admit (or even recognize) when this happens. When you speak with family and friends, stories begin to surface, people having the same exact experiences with drugs and the medical community’s lack of understanding when it comes to adverse drug reactions–how doctors use gaslighting as a form of silencing their patients’ concerns. It’s very sad, I’ve been there–but it’s good to know that at least we, the patients, and certain doctors and researchers know just how potentially dangerous medications can be.

  10. Thanks for putting your story and your travails out there, CF.

    This is yet another page in the Mad Mad Mad World of the druggies writing chapter after chapter of our world out of sync — those white lab coat wearing, PhD and MD bearing, know all/know nothing men and women foisting drug after drug onto a Western Culture that precipitate a culture that is so out of balance; all the way down to the family unit we have nowhere, seemingly, to run but to the drug store and managed for-profit medical delivery system for help.

    I am quoting you kind sir to ramify my points:

    “One year ago, I was living the American dream, a father of two young sons, active, social, traveling sales person. All of that was taken away from me because of a pill. I never had any history of mental illness or even anxiety for that matter. I “sold myself to the devil” as they say by taking a medication that I was told would help me with some fears with public speaking. I am now paying the price for that decision.
    ….
    I went to see the psych for only three weeks but he changed the course of my life with just a couple of strokes of a a pen on a piece of paper. This doctor prescribed a pill. A pill that many say “re-wires” the brain. The medication he suggested was Lexapro. I had never heard of Lexapro, but back in 2001, anti-depressants were taking off. You may recall the TV series, The Sopranos. It was a hit cable series that featured characters that as soon as anyone had any issue pop up, the doctor prescribed an antidepressant. It seemed to me that they were making a joke of the concept that everyone on the show needed a medication to function.

    In 2003, during the peak of that wave, I started Lexapro. Within weeks, I was transformed into someone who feared nothing. Everything became much easier for me. I could present to large audiences. My fear of flying disappeared. My career took off. I became even more social, feeling confident in any setting. I enjoyed being the center of attention. I then started making changes in my life. I got divorced. At the time, I felt that I did not need to put up with anything if I didn’t want to. It was hard, as I had two young sons, but I felt it was the right move for me at the time. Looking back it was a cold move (and I handled it poorly) but I was laser focused on what I wanted to do. I became much more comfortable and flirtatious with women (not in an obnoxious way). At the time, I wanted to be free. In so many ways, in my mind, I was an improved person. It wasn’t until the last year that I realized how wrong I was. I took Lexapro for 15 years. I never looked back. Until now.”

    ###

    Wow is all I can say, and, unfortunately, I’ve been a teacher since 1983 who has seen so many fine people suffer GAD, general anxiety disorder, fear of presentations, and panic and severe depression — at colleges, universities, alternative high schools, military bases, prisons, refugee centers, retirement facilities, day centers for memory care patients and those living with developmental disabilities.

    Your story is not unusual, and many people grab prescribed and other chemicals and other systems of coping to cope. Man, how the drug industry and the medical industry are nefarious, cold, and they too are stealth and focused: money-money-profits-profits at all and any costs!

    Here, lawsuits against the manufacturer of Lexapro. Mothers, no less, tied to birth defects!

    Lexapro was given a grade C by the Food and Drug Administration for its level of safety when used during pregnancy. Research shows that the drug had adverse effects on the reproduction of the animals being tested. Though the medication may be harmful to the fetus, the benefits of its usage may outweigh the risks therefore allowing approval for use in expecting mothers.

    Mothers of children born with birth defects have filed numerous lawsuits against Forest Labs for the injuries as well as the failure to alert users of these potential risks. In one case in St. Louis, Missouri, in which three mothers filed Lexapro lawsuits, the mothers argue that if they had been aware of these potential side effects that they would not have taken the medication and would have chosen a safer alternative.

    Birth defects caused by Lexapro include:

    Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of Newborns (PPHN) – PPHN is one of the most life threatening side effects of the birth defects. PPHN affects a newborns heart and lungs by causing difficulty adapting and breathing outside of the womb. Infants born with this condition are often admitted into intensive care and require supported ventilation and heightened supervision.

    Cleft Palette and/or Cleft Lip – Cleft palette is occurs when the body’s natural structure does not properly fuse together while in the womb. There then becomes a gap that can often be surgically corrected but otherwise requires special care and attention. Cleft palates can lead to speech impairment, difficulty breathing and ear infections and hearing problems.

    Heart Defects – The use of any SSRI imposes a heightened risk of heart defects in newborns however, expectant mothers that are prescribed Lexapro are at nearly double the risk of obtaining heart defects including, but not limited to, atrial septal defect, hypoplastic heart syndromes, tetralogy of fallot and transposition of the great arteries.

    Neural Tube Defects – Fetuses exposed to Lexapro while in the womb are at twice the risk of obtaining anencephaly, a neural tube defect. Anencephaly is a fatal disorder characterized by the absence of a large portion of the brain and skull.

    These defects are among several others including limb defects, spina bifida and cranial defects. Mothers should be aware that the chemicals in Lexapro can travel through the placenta and the use of this drug puts themselves and their unborn child at risk of defect or even death. Expecting mothers should consider their health as well as that of their child and contact a physician about possible alternative medications.

    https://www.drugdangers.com/ssri/lexapro/lawsuit.htm

    Thousands of payouts for violence, murder and suicides attributed to SSRI’s like Lexapro.

    Amazing, if we go down the Physicians’ Desk Reference (PDR) of all the drugs, and then do a Google and LexisNexis search on lawsuits and injuries tied to those drugs. Again, the cure is worse than the disease is the unfortunate reality of so much in our society tied to not only health, but other aspects fueling the engines of capitalism.

    Unintended consequences. Tipping Points. Lag Time. The Tragedy of the Commons. Your story is so linked to what does go wrong in our First World Developed Society, from the individual in society to the society in the culture, to the culture in the world.

    Thanks for your stories.

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