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Drug Profile

Do NOT stop taking this or any drug without the advice of your physician. Some drugs can cause severe adverse effects when they are stopped suddenly.

Do Not Use [what does this mean?]
Generic drug name: amitriptyline (a mee TRIP ti leen)
Brand name(s):
GENERIC: not available FAMILY: Tricyclics
Find the drug label by searching at DailyMed.

Alternative Treatment [top]

For Depression, see desipramine and nortriptyline.

Safety Warnings For This Drug [top]

FDA BLACK BOX WARNING

Suicidality and Antidepressant Drugs

Compared with placebo, antidepressants increased the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents and young adults in short-term studies of major depressive disorder and other psychiatric disorders. Anyone considering the use of amitriptyline or any other antidepressant in a child, adolescent or young adult must balance this risk with the clinical need. Short-term studies did not show an increase in the risk of suicidality with antidepressants compared with placebo in adults beyond age 24; there was a reduction in risk with antidepressants compared with placebo in adults aged 65 and older. Depression and certain other psychiatric disorders are themselves associated with increases in the risk of suicide. Patients of all ages who are started on antidepressant therapy should be monitored appropriately and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality or unusual changes in behavior. Families and caregivers should be advised of the need for close observation and communication with the prescriber.

Amitriptyline is not approved for use in pediatric patients.

Anticholinergic Effects

Warning: Special Mental and Physical Adverse Effects

Older adults are especially sensitive to the harmful anticholinergic effects of these drugs. Drugs in this family should not be used unless absolutely necessary.

Mental Effects: confusion, delirium, short-term memory problems, disorientation and impaired attention

Physical Effects: dry mouth, constipation, difficulty urinating (especially for a man with an enlarged prostate), blurred vision, decreased sweating with increased body temperature, sexual dysfunction and worsening of glaucoma

If you use this drug, ask your doctor about switching to another antidepressant. Do not stop taking this drug suddenly. Your doctor must give you a schedule to lower your dose gradually, to prevent withdrawal symptoms such as headache, mood change, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or trouble sleeping and vivid dreams.

Facts About This Drug [top]

Amitriptyline (generic only) is a tricyclic antidepressant used to treat depression. We have designated this drug as Do Not Use because it has more harmful adverse effects than any other drug in its family (see Adverse Effects of Antidepressants table in Depression: When are Drugs Called For And Which Ones Should You Use?). A group of highly regarded drug safety experts maintains a list of drugs they consider inappropriate for use in patients over 65. Amitriptyline is among the 48 medications...

Amitriptyline (generic only) is a tricyclic antidepressant used to treat depression. We have designated this drug as Do Not Use because it has more harmful adverse effects than any other drug in its family (see Adverse Effects of Antidepressants table in Depression: When are Drugs Called For And Which Ones Should You Use?). A group of highly regarded drug safety experts maintains a list of drugs they consider inappropriate for use in patients over 65. Amitriptyline is among the 48 medications or classes of medication on that list.[1] For patients who need an antidepressant drug, we recommend trying one of the newer selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (for example, fluoxetine [PROZAC, SARAFEM, SELFEMRA]) first, as these are the safest antidepressants. If symptoms do not improve sufficiently with use of an SSRI and remain severe, further treatment with other antidepressants is warranted. If symptoms do not improve sufficiently with use of an SSRI and remain severe, further treatment with other antidepressants is warranted.

The length of time it takes an antidepressant to work can overlap with the time of spontaneous recovery, especially if the depression is situational (if it is caused by a death or other external circumstances). Most people lift themselves out of depression with friends, spiritual resources, or activities such as exercise, work, reading, play, art, and travel. If depression is not overcome by these measures, seek help from mental health professionals, such as therapists or psychiatrists. Antidepressant drugs should be reserved for major depression in which the patient does not respond to psychotherapy alone.

In 2015, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that strong anticholinergic drugs were associated with an increased risk of dementia in older adults. The study also showed that higher doses and longer use of these drugs are associated with higher risk of dementia.[2]

Refer to the August 2015 issue of Worst Pills, Best Pills News for examples of strong anticholinergic drugs.

Regulatory actions surrounding tricyclic antidepressants

2004: In October 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a public health advisory requiring manufacturers to add a black-box warning (see above) to its professional product labeling (package insert) of all antidepressants. A black-box warning is the strongest type of warning that the FDA can require. The FDA also requires that a Patient Medication Guide be given to patients receiving this drug advising them of the risk and precautions that can be taken.

2007: The FDA announced in May 2007 that it would require new warnings concerning the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in young adults ages 18 to 24 during the first one to two months of treatment with antidepressants. The black-box warnings are printed on the professional product labels (or package inserts) for all antidepressants sold in the U.S. The warning is an amendment to an existing black-box warning for children and adolescents.[3]

The FDA-approved professional product labeling for antidepressant drugs sold in the United States carries the following statement:

Suicide: The possibility of a suicide attempt is inherent in major depressive disorder and may persist until significant remission occurs. Close supervision of high-risk patients should accompany initial drug therapy. Prescriptions for Drug X should be written for the smallest quantity of tablets consistent with good patient management, in order to reduce the risk of overdose. 

last reviewed January 31, 2021