Can antidepressants treat gastrointestinal (GI) disorders?

Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
If either anxiety or depression appears to be a factor in a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, specific treatment for anxiety or depression, including referral to a mental health professional, may be needed. Moreover, patients with severe GI symptoms, especially those with chronic pain, may benefit from treatment with antidepressants even if they are not depressed. Although these medications are most often prescribed to help alleviate depression and anxiety, in lower doses they also act to relieve pain. One large analysis of patients with irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia found that in all 12 studies examined, patients treated with antidepressants showed an improvement in abdominal pain scores compared with placebo. Antidepressants also improve a sense of overall well-being in functional GI disorder patients. And they can benefit gut motility (ability of digestive tract to propel its contents).

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