Treating Neuropathy with Tricyclic Antidepressants

Tricyclic antidepressants are an important class of medications that we shouldn’t forget about.  They are typically very inexpensive and can provide nice relief for pain syndromes, particularly neuropathy.  Treating neuropathy with triple-cyclic antidepressants does take a little paying attention to.  Here’s 5 clinical pearls I’m going to think about when recommending these agents.

  1. Age.  The elderly are particularly prone to the anticholinergic side effects of tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline and nortriptyline.
  2. Does the patient have diabetic gastroparesis?  Many patients with diabetes may have neuropathy and they also may have gastroparesis.  The anticholinergic nature of the TCA’s can lead to exacerbations of gastroparesis.
  3. Alternative agents.  With neuropathy, gabapentin and SNRI’s are two of the other major options.  They also have downsides, but overall I would say that utilizing these agents first are typically tried first.  Pregabalin can often lead to insurance coverage challenges which will hopefully change over the next couple of years as pregabalin goes generic.
  4. Insomnia.  TCA’s tend to be much more sedating than the SNRI’s.  If insomnia is a problem for the patient and/or if symptoms are particularly troublesome at night, it makes some sense that a TCA might be a decent option.
  5. Constipation.  Often patient with diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and neuropathy are already on several medications and many may already contribute to constipation.

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Written By Eric Christianson

October 4, 2017

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