Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/6/2022
Amitriptyline: a name you’ll struggle to say, and a drug you’ll use for a variety of problems, both mental and physical.
There are several use cases for amitriptyline, and depending on why a healthcare provider suggested it for you, you may experience very different results, see very different dosages, and potentially deal with differing common side effects.
Whether it’s nerve pain treatment for neuropathy, mood regulation for depressed patients, patients with anxiety disorders and panic attacks, or another condition, this drug therapy is safe to use as directed. Let’s unpack what conditions you may be directed to treat with it.
How it works is remarkably simple: the medication blocks your brain from reabsorbing surplus neurotransmitters called serotonin and norepinephrine.
When your brain isn’t allowed to reabsorb the surplus of these neurotransmitters, that means that there is a larger supply on standby for what your brain actually needs them for: regulating your moods.
Tricyclic antidepressants have been around since the late 1950s, and they’ve been fairly effective at treating depression since then. Though, with admittedly serious side effects for some people.
As a result, while still used, they’ve been more commonly replaced, as “better” medications for depression in adults have emerged. Still, they’re a valuable tool for many conditions.
Amitriptyline is commonly used to treat both mental illness and physical illness symptoms — it’s primarily a mood stabilizing medication, but its use to affect pain receptors is well-defined, too. Here are some examples of what prescription amitriptyline can do:
One of the most obvious uses of any good antidepressant would be — you guessed it — treating depression. Is amitriptyline good at this? Yes.
Amitriptyline’s mood-balancing prowess is extremely effective for treating conditions like major depressive disorder (MDD), which can bring you to emotional extremes at its worst.
Stabilizing your mood helps to eliminate those extreme highs and lows for better clarity and happiness.
This medication is FDA approved for the treatment of depression, but Amitriptyline has been used for the off-label treatment of a bevy of other conditions, including anxiety and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
It’s the most unusual one of the bunch, but some studies have shown that amitriptyline can be beneficial in an off-label capacity in treating insomnia, especially insomnia due to one of the other conditions mentioned here.
Neuropathic pain is pain due to nerve damage, which can be caused by anything from an injury to a disease like diabetes, which causes diabetic neuropathy. Essentially, it makes your nerves send pain signals to your brain even when there isn’t a new source of pain.
Amitriptyline can treat this, as well as chronic pain due to other conditions, and has also been associated with pain relief for bladder diseases, IBS and more.
Amitriptyline is commonly used for mood disorders, and it’s especially effective in one particular space: as an alternative to another class of antidepressants called SSRIs, which carry fewer side effects of amitriptyline.
It may take you anywhere from a couple weeks to a month (or longer) to start noticing results.
Usual doses of amitriptyline may also vary from person to person. You may start off at 10mg per day for conditions like anxiety, but this varies from person to person.
The National Library of Medicine states that doses of amitriptyline for depression will typically start around 25mg per day, and may be raised every three to seven days at the discretion of your healthcare provider.
The maximum effective dose of amitriptyline is around 300mg per day, and shouldn’t be exceeded.
Will you be prescribed amitriptyline? In most instances, no.
These days, SSRIs are largely considered a superior form of antidepressant — they generally have fewer potential side effects than TCAs, and tend to be better tolerated over all.
TCAs aren’t exactly retired, though. You’re likely to be prescribed amitriptyline in certain conditions, most often as a second option due to refractory effects of other medications.
Amitriptyline is not approved by the FDA for use in children, but is used by some clinicians in rare instances.
You’ll need to watch the dangerous side effects of these medications as well — taking too much of the medication can result in heart disease, a blood disorder, blood pressure issues, cognitive problems and potentially heart attack.
Too high a dosage of amitriptyline can lead to symptoms like seizures, fever, drowsiness, hallucinations, vomiting, agitation, confusion and even coma, potentially resulting in death.
Before going on any medication, you may also consider therapy — a mental health professional might start you on something like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to give you the tools to cognitively self-manage your condition, with or without the assistance of medication.
Amitriptyline is just one of many types of antidepressant medications on the market, and if we’re being honest, it’s probably not your first option.
Understanding the risk factors associated with mental health medications like antidepressant drugs is an important step in treating mental illness, and you do that first and foremost by talking to a mental health provider or healthcare professional for medical advice.
If you’re just starting to look into mental health treatment or treatment for depression, skip the medication deep dives and take the next crucial step in your journey: talk to your healthcare provider.
Not only will they be able to explain the benefits and adverse effects of medications to you in more detail, but they’ll also be able to point you in the direction of the tailored, best-practices treatment plan for your own mental health.
Ready to take that step now? Contact a mental health professional today.