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What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are drugs that can treat pain and/or emotional conditions by adjusting levels of neurotransmitters (natural chemicals) in the brain. These medications can increase the availability of the body's signals for well-being and relaxation, enabling pain control for people with chronic pain conditions that do not completely respond to usual treatments.

Chronic pain conditions treated by low-dose antidepressants include some types of headaches (like migraines) and menstrual pain. Some antidepressant medications include:

 

These drugs require a steady dose of the medicine buildup in the body over a period of time to work. The doses needed to treat pain are often lower than those needed to treat depression.

In general, antidepressants have fewer long-term side effects than frequent, ongoing use of other pain medicines. Generally, SSRIs and SNRIs have fewer side effects than tricyclic antidepressants. The most common side effects with antidepressants include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headache

What Are Anticonvulsants?

Anticonvulsants are drugs typically used to treat seizure disorders. Some of these medications are shown to be effective in treating pain as well. The exact way in which these medicines control pain is unclear but it is thought that they minimize the effects of nerves that cause pain. Some examples include carbamazepine (Tegretol), gabapentin (Neurontin), and pregabalin (Lyrica).

In general, anticonvulsants are well tolerated. The most common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

Other Pain Treatments

Another means of topical pain relief comes in the form of a lidocaine (Lidoderm) patch, which is a prescription medication.

If your pain is not relieved by the usual treatments, your doctor may refer you to a pain management specialist. Doctors who specialize in pain management may try other treatments such as certain types of physical therapy or other kinds of medicine. They may also recommend TENS, a procedure that uses patches placed on the skin to send signals that stop pain.

Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) is a method of pain control that allows the patient to control the amount of pain medication administered. This is often used in the hospital to treat pain. By pushing a button on a computerized pump, the patient receives a pre-measured dose of pain medicine. The pump is connected to a small tube that allows medicine to be injected intravenously (into a vein), subcutaneously (just under the skin), or into the spinal area.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 03, 2013
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