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Antidepressants and IBS

I got a lot of great feedback when I wrote an article about depression and IBS a few months ago. Part of my point was that while there is so much anxiety, stress and tension talk related to IBS, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of ‘depression and anxiety.’ While feelings of depression associated with IBS seemed to make a lot of sense, there just didn’t seem to be as much written about it. I have been quite open about my struggles with bi-polar disorder, depression and anxiety, as well as my work in the field of Social Services. I am very familiar with psychiatric medications, how they work and what they work for, but I am by no stretch a doctor or even an expert. I was surprised though, that I missed the fact that research seems to show that antidepressants are being prescribed for folks with IBS, not specifically because the individual is actually depressed, but because there are some findings that the drugs themselves may relieve IBS symptoms and pain. I read quite a bit about this concept and thought I would put in my two cents.

Antidepressants improve IBS symptoms

I am not going to go into specifics regarding the ways in which antidepressants are supposed to help with IBS symptoms. I will say, just to give you the gist, that there are two particular classes of antidepressants (TCA’s and SSRI’s) that are supposed to improve IBS symptoms. According to the research sited, one drug may be better for IBS-C (the TCA’s) and one is supposed to be better for IBS-D (the SSRI’s). Gastrointestinal efficiency, reduced frequency of bowel movements and decreased pain sensation are among the handful of things that are supposed to be possible. This sounds really good and I am never one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but this is sort of where I would like to share personal experience.

My personal experience with antidepressants

I have taken perhaps eight different antidepressants, although, interestingly enough, I have never taken a TCA antidepressant. Honestly, I very rarely see TCA antidepressants prescribed to clients or any of the many people I have discussed medication with in my travels in the psychiatric world. Therefore, I suppose I would only offer this with regards to TCA antidepressants; they are not commonly prescribed for depression, so please find out what they are prescribed for and what the side-effects might be (long term and short). Of the eight antidepressants I have taken, six have been SSRI’s. I will say, that based on personal experience, that going on an antidepressant is at very least, not pleasant for the belly. Whether or not it has some effectiveness with IBS, I really don’t know. I just know that there are headaches, stomach issues, fatigue, dry mouth and a bunch of other very common, very normal side effects to be aware of before entering into a world of antidepressants, especially if you are next looking to alleviate depression. This statement also does not address the changes to your mind and body when you decide you don’t want or need to take them anymore.

My very thinly veiled point is that taking antidepressants when you are not depressed (or even if you are in many cases) is not an easy thing. Weighing the pros and cons is absolutely necessary.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Clouse, R.E. (2003). Antidepressants for irritable bowel syndrome. Gut, 52:598–599
  2. Rahimi, R., Nikfar, S., Rezaie, A., Abdollahi, Mo. (2009). Efficacy of tricyclic antidepressants in irritable bowel syndrome: A meta-analysis. World J Gastroenterol, 15(13): 1548-1553
  3. Christine B. Dalton, Douglas A. Drossman. The Use of Antidepressants in the Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Other Functional GI Disorders. UNC Center for Functional and GI disorders

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