What is Phenelzine?

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  • Written By: Melanie Smeltzer
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 26 June 2019
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Phenelzine is an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication reserved for those who have found no relief from other medicine or alternative treatments. This drug is an irreversible monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) that has been found effective in managing treatment-resistant patients who suffer from problems such as major depressive disorder, panic and anxiety conditions, and eating disorders. Despite its efficacy, this medication is only prescribed as a last resort, as it is known to cause a number of potentially life-threatening side effects.

Monoamine oxidase (MAO) is an enzyme that can be found in most cells of the body. Serotonin and norepinephrine are two chemicals that help to prevent depression. MAOs can break down these two chemicals in the brain, and can cause a feeling of depression. Phenelzine is said to inhibit the breakdown of these chemicals by reducing the activity of MAOs, which will generally help create a feeling of well-being and lift the symptoms of depression or anxiety.


Phenelzine is best known as an antidepressant, and is most often used to help patients who suffer from major depressive disorder, dysthymia, and bipolar depression. It has been found to be particularly effective in treating depression categorized as non-endogenous, neurotic, or atypical. In addition, it is sometimes used to treat anxiety and stress disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD). The drug is also occasionally utilized in the treatment of bulimia, as it may help in easing the disorder and any underlying depression symptoms.

MAOs can be found throughout the entire body, and because of this, phenelzine is thought to cause a large number of side effects. In people under the age of 24, this drug may cause suicidal thoughts. For people of any age, some mild side effects may consist of twitching, jerking, or uncontrollable shaking, constipation, or drowsiness. More severe reactions may include a swelling of the face or extremities, nausea or vomiting, chest pain or difficulty breathing.

This drug may also interact with a number of other medications or foods. Stimulant medications, other antidepressants, and certain decongestants should not be combined with phenelzine as they may cause high blood pressure, manic episodes, or seizures. Foods that contain high levels of tyramine, such as meat, smoked cheeses, and alcohol, as well as coffee, tea, and soda, should also be avoided because they may cause a significant increase in blood pressure.



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