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Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) Drugs FAQ

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What are tricyclic antidepressants, and how do they work?

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are a class of antidepressant medications that share a similar chemical structure and biological effects. Scientists believe that patients with depression may have an imbalance in neurotransmitters, chemicals that nerves make and use to communicate with other nerves. Tricyclic antidepressants increase levels of norepinephrine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters, and block the action of acetylcholine, another neurotransmitter. Scientists believe that by restoring the balance in these neurotransmitters in the brain that tricyclic antidepressants alleviate depression. In addition to relieving depression, tricyclic antidepressants also cause sedation and somewhat block effects of histamine.

For what conditions are tricyclic antidepressants used?

Tricyclic antidepressants are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating several types of depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and bedwetting.

In addition, they are used for several off-label (non-FDA approved) uses such as:

  • panic disorder,
  • bulimia,
  • chronic pain (for example, migraine, tension headaches, diabetic neuropathy, and post herpetic neuralgia),
  • phantom limb pain,
  • chronic itching, and
  • premenstrual symptoms.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/5/2016

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