Tricyclic antidepressants for fibromyalgia

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
amitriptyline  
doxepin Sinequan
imipramine Tofranil
nortriptyline Aventyl, Pamelor
trazodone  

How It Works

Experts do not know exactly how tricyclic antidepressants improve symptoms of fibromyalgia. They may help some people with fibromyalgia to sleep better through the night by increasing the deep phase of sleep and decreasing muscle spasms.1

These medicines can also be used to treat depression.

Why It Is Used

Doctors may prescribe tricyclic antidepressants when sleep problems are a major symptom of fibromyalgia.

How Well It Works

Some research shows that tricyclics may work better than other antidepressants for treating fibromyalgia symptoms. They are good at helping with sleep problems. But they may become less effective over time.2

Side Effects

Side effects vary among the different medicines of this type. They may include:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Constipation.
  • Difficulty urinating.
  • Confusion.
  • Agitation or nightmares.
  • Lightheadedness when a person stands up too quickly (caused by lowered blood pressure).
  • Fast heart rate.

People who have seizures (epilepsy), difficulty urinating (urinary retention), glaucoma (an eye disease), or heart conditions may notice that tricyclic antidepressants make these symptoms worse.

FDA Advisory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of suicide. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead, a person taking antidepressants should be watched for warning signs of suicide. This is especially important when treatment begins or when the doses are changed.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Studies suggest that using the combination of a tricyclic antidepressant and a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), such as fluoxetine (Prozac), may be more successful at breaking the cycle of pain and sleep problems caused by fibromyalgia than using just a single medicine.

These medicines may take 1 to 3 weeks to start to work. They usually work quickly to improve sleep but may take several weeks to improve pain—up to 6 to 8 weeks in older adults. Treatment with antidepressants does not always relieve symptoms caused by fibromyalgia. Even when the treatment does work, some people may find the side effects of these medicines unacceptable.

Using an antidepressant medicine to treat fibromyalgia does not mean that the condition is "all in your head." The dose of a tricyclic antidepressant used to treat fibromyalgia is usually much less than that needed to treat depression.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Bradley LA, Alarcon GS (2005). Fibromyalgia section of Miscellaneous rheumatic diseases. In WJ Koopman, LW Moreland, eds., Arthritis and Allied Conditions: A Textbook of Rheumatology, 15th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1869–1910. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  2. Arnold LM (2000). Antidepressant treatment of fibromyalgia. Psychosomatics, 41(2): 104–113.

Last Updated: October 21, 2009

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Richa Dhawan, MD - Rheumatology

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