Why Would I Get an Antidepressant for My Pain?

As their name suggests, antidepressants treat depression. Research also shows that some of these drugs may help with some kinds of long-lasting pain, as well.

Antidepressants can directly affect how your brain senses certain kinds of pain. Also, if you have depression or anxiety, those meds can ease those symptoms, which can also help ease your pain.

Doctors don’t know exactly why antidepressants help with pain. They may affect chemicals in your spinal cord -- you may hear them called neurotransmitters -- that send pain signals to your brain.

It's important to note that antidepressants don’t work on pain right away. It can be a week or so before you feel any better. In fact, you may not get their full effect for several weeks. If your pain isn’t better after that, your doctor might change your dose or suggest that you try a different medicine.

What Can They Help Treat?

They may help ease symptoms caused by:

Which Ones Might Help With Pain?

Tricyclics have been around since the 1950s and are the most common antidepressants prescribed for pain. They affect two chemicals in your body -- serotonin and norepinephrine. Both help regulate your mood.

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) also affect those two chemicals, but they work in different ways than tricyclics. There are many versions of these, but the only one approved by the FDA to treat pain is duloxetine (Cymbalta).

Bupropion affects norepinephrine and another chemical called dopamine, which regulates many parts of our behavior.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) only affect serotonin. Studies have shown that they don’t seem to work on pain as well as other kinds of antidepressants.

What Are the Possible Side Effects?

Tricyclics can cause:

If you take duloxetine, you might have:

At first, SSRIs also can make you:

They may also give you:

They also can affect your sex life.

Bupropion can lead to:

It also may make you feel:

  • Anxious
  • Irritable
  • Restless

In some people, it can also cause:

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on May 14, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: “Antidepressant Use in Chronic Pain Management: Is There Evidence of a Role for Duloxetine?” “Pain, Pain, Go Away: Antidepressants and Pain Management.”

Mayo Clinic: “Antidepressants: Another Weapon Against Chronic Pain," “Diseases and Conditions, Depression (major depressive disorder): Tricyclic antidepressants and tetracyclic antidepressants,” “Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs),” “Drugs and Supplements Bupropion (Oral Route), Side Effects,” “Treatments and Drugs.”

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.