Antidepressants for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Antidepressants for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Topic Overview

Antidepressants are used to treat depression, anxiety, or both by correcting imbalances in brain chemistry. For people who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), doses much lower than those usually used to treat depression can help relieve symptoms of IBS such as pain, bloating, and feeling like you are unable to pass a stool.1

They may be used to treat chronic, unremitting abdominal pain that interferes with your daily activities. Here are some examples of antidepressants used to treat IBS. Your doctor may give you one that is not in this list.

  • Amitriptyline (such as Elavil)
  • Bupropion (such as Wellbutrin)
  • Citalopram (such as Celexa)
  • Desipramine
  • Fluoxetine (such as Prozac)
  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Trazodone (such as Desyrel)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)

For people who have IBS along with depression and anxiety, these medicines may be used in doses that are usually used to treat depression or anxiety. Some antidepressants may worsen constipation. Others may worsen diarrhea. You may start to feel better within 1 to 3 weeks of taking antidepressant medicine. But it can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to see more improvement. If you have questions or concerns about your medicines, or if you do not notice any improvement by 3 weeks, talk to your doctor. See the topic Depression for more information.

Advisories. Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued:

  • Warnings on the antidepressant Paxil (paroxetine) and birth defects. One new study showed that women who took Paxil during their first 12 weeks of pregnancy had a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects.
  • Advisories on antidepressant medicines and the risk of suicide. It is not recommended 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 more information about these medicines. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

References

Citations

  1. Brandt LJ, et al. (2002). Systematic review on the management of irritable bowel syndrome in North America. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 97(11, Suppl): S7–S26.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Jerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology
Last Revised July 14, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.