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What is Desipramine?

While once used widely in the treatment of depression, desipramine is usually only prescribed after newer antidepressants have proven ineffective.
Unlike some antidepressants that focus on inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin in the brain, desipramine works by inhibiting the reuptake of norepinephrine.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2014
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Desipramine is a medication that is used in the treatment of depression. Unlike some antidepressants that focus on inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin in the brain, desipramine works by inhibiting the reuptake of norepinephrine. The drug is sold under several different brand names, including Pertofrane and Norpramin. While once used extensively in the treatment of depression, this medication is normally utilized only when the patient has negative reactions to the several antidepressants that focus on serotonin reuptake.

Classified as a tricyclic antidepressant, desipramine works by allowing any amount of norephinephrine produced in the brain to remain longer in the system. As with other types of reuptake inhibitors, the suspension of the reuptake process results in an enhanced mood for the patient, gradually making it easier for the individual to emerge from depression and begin to recapture interest in hobbies, family, and life in general. The exact dosage that is administered will depend on the severity of the depression as determined by a qualified health professional.

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As with most antidepressant drugs, desipramine does take some time to work into the system and begin to have an effect. The amount of time required depends on the individual and may range from a couple of weeks to three or four months. Rarely is the effect of the drug sudden or dramatic in nature. Rather, the individual begins to sense a slow but consistent recession of the constant feelings of worthlessness, lethargy and general disinterest that are common symptoms of depression.

Desipramine has also been found to be effective as a means of treating recurring pain by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain. There is also some evidence that the medication can be helpful with cases of Attention Deficit Disorder as well.

Along with most medications, desipramine does carry the risk of some side effects. Some research indicates that taking the drug for an extended period of time may increase the chance of developing breast cancer. As with any antidepressant, the medication may produce the opposite effect and cause the depression to deepen. For this reason, it is important to report any changes in mood, especially if they involve thoughts of suicide, to a physician immediately.

While no longer considered a first line of defense when it comes to the treatment of depression, desipramine can often be very helpful to people who do not respond well to any type of medication that inhibits serotonin reuptake. Gradually weaning off the medication can usually be accomplished with fewer side effects, as long as the attending physician closely monitors the tapering off period. For people who try other types of antidepressants and find they either do not help or make the symptoms worse, desipramine can be the ideal form of treatment.

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