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What Are the Uses of Amitriptyline?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Amitriptyline, also known as Elavil®, is a medication first introduced in the 1960s, which is part of a class of medications called tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). It has a number of common uses, but it should be noted that the only use for which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves it is to treat depression. It has not been investigated by the FDA for the many off-label uses the drug presently has, but the off-label uses have often been shown to be efficacious. These unofficial uses of amitriptyline include treatment for insomnia, chronic pain conditions, migraine prevention, posttraumatic stress syndrome, post-herpetic neuralgia, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and eating disorders like bulimia.

Probably the most clinically approved uses of amitriptyline are for psychiatric conditions. There is significant literature associating depression with anxiety disorders and a number of antidepressants are useful in treating conditions like panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s theorized that the mechanisms that regulate mood also regulate stress response, and it thus makes sense to consider a medication like amitriptyline because it prevents both serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake.

Each antidepressant works differently though, and the most common uses of amitriptyline in mental disorders involve its prescription for depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress. It has also been used to treat bulimia and there are some reports on its effectiveness in this respect. A number of antidepressants are now considered alternate treatment for ADHD, and amitriptyline falls into this class, though it is not recommended for children under the age of 12.

In addition to having a beneficial effect on mood for some patients, amitriptyline also appears to improve response to pain in some chronic pain conditions. People who have post-herpetic neuralgia, which is lingering and pronounced pain caused by shingles, may respond well to amitriptyline. Other times, it’s been prescribed for chronic pain issues like those associated with multiple sclerosis (MS), or to reduce movement disorders that MS can cause. Conditions like fibromyalgia may respond to the drug, too. Some patients use amitriptyline on a regular basis to prevent frequent migraines, although it doesn’t appear to work if it is only taken when people experience a migraine.

One reason drug manufacturers sought replacements to TCAs is because they have a heavy burden of side effects. One of these side effects is sleepiness, and this may translate to the logical use of amitriptyline for insomnia. It may not only cause drowsiness, but the drug has a long half-life that could reduce premature waking. TCAs are also known for potential to create stomach upset, but their changes to digestive workings may play to their advantage to treat conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.

In all, the potential uses of amitriptyline are multiple. In most cases, a TCA doesn’t represent first line treatment to a condition. In contrast, uses of amitriptyline may be a first treatment choice, and such uses are often credible.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon1000268 — On Jul 31, 2018

I've been taking amitriptyline for a few days now, for horrible stomach issues and chronic vomiting. It so far has been a godsend! I just hope it keeps doing what it's doing, because if it continues to work. I'll finally have my life back!

By bluedolphin — On Nov 04, 2013

There are many different uses for amitriptyline. For example, a lot of people complain about increased appetite and weight gain on amitriptyline. But this is actually of good use for some people. Like my little sister who was having issues with food. She wasn't eating and getting thinner by the day. Amitriptyline improved her appetite and helped her put on weight.

Amitriptyline is an interesting drug. It doesn't seem to have much use in terms of its original purpose, but it has a lot of off-label uses.

By SarahGen — On Nov 04, 2013

@donasmrs-- My husband was on it for a while and he was only on this medication, nothing else at the same time. He does have ADHD but I don't think that his doctor gave it to him to treat his ADHD, but rather his insomnia problem that was a result of his ADHD.

It did help him sleep because amitriptyline has sedative effects. I'm not sure why he stopped taking it but I think it was because he needed to take something for his ADHD and they didn't want to mix meds.

By donasmrs — On Nov 03, 2013

I didn't know that amitriptyline is prescribed for ADHD. I used this medication a very long time ago for depression. All I remember is the side effects of the medicine. It had made me very tired, hungry and moody.

Does anyone here take it for ADHD? Does it really work? Do you take it alone or in addition to other ADHD medications?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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