Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) for the treatment of chronic pelvic pain


Generic Name Brand Name
doxepin Sinequan
imipramine Tofranil

How It Works

Tricyclic antidepressants can improve chronic pain symptoms. However, it is not known exactly how they do so. They may improve pain tolerance, and reduce symptoms of depression.1

Why It Is Used

Tricyclic antidepressants are used to help improve coping skills and pain tolerance in women with chronic pelvic pain.1

In low doses, tricyclic antidepressants can help relieve pain. In higher doses, they have antidepressant effects.

How Well It Works

When using tricyclic antidepressants for chronic pelvic pain (with no diagnosable cause), some women report that their pain is less intense and doesn't last as long. Some women discontinue the medication because of side effects, and others report no improvement.2

Side Effects

Side effects vary among the different medications in this class. They may include:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Constipation.
  • Confusion.
  • Agitation or nightmares.
  • Lightheadedness when changing position (orthostatic hypotension).

Tricyclic antidepressants may make problems worse if you have any of the following:

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 at the beginning of treatment 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

These medications may take 2 to 3 weeks to start working. They usually work quickly to improve sleep but may take several weeks to improve pain. Treatment with antidepressants does not always relieve symptoms caused by chronic pelvic pain. Even when the treatment does work, you may find the side effects of these medications unacceptable.

Using an antidepressant medication to treat chronic pelvic pain does not mean that the condition is "all in your head." The dose of a tricyclic antidepressant used to treat chronic pelvic pain 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.



  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2004, reaffirmed 2008). Chronic pelvic pain. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 51. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 103(3): 589–605.
  2. Howard FM (2003). Chronic pelvic pain. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 101(3): 594–611.

Last Updated: January 28, 2009

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