UK doctors are studying an old drug as a treatment for IBS



Several physicians in the U.K. are recruiting IBS patients to confirm if an old antidepressant, known as amitriptyline, is effective in treating IBS. Matthew Ridd, MD, is a general practitioner and a senior researcher at the University of Bristol. He is coordinating the study, which also involves the University of Leeds and the University of Southampton.

Amitriptyline belongs to a class of medicines called tricyclic antidepressants. The drug was initially approved to treat depression in 1961, but multiple studies have since shown that in varying dosages, it can also be effective in:

  • Treating pain from diabetic neuropathy

  • Reducing migraines and chronic tension headaches

  • Improving fatigue and insomnia in fibromyalgia

Tricyclic antidepressants work by increasing certain brain chemicals, like serotonin and norepinephrine, to help improve mood, sleep, pain, and anxiety. Because constipation is a common side effect, several studies have shown its effectiveness in easing IBS-D.


For years, amitriptyline has been considered a safe treatment with few, serious side effects here in the U.S. Primary care physicians from across the pond, however, do not yet commonly prescribe the medication for easing IBS symptoms.


Physicians in Bristol, Leeds, and Southampton as seeking 500 IBS patients to participate in the study. The 500 participants will be given either an amitriptyline or a placebo tablet for six months. During that time period, their symptoms and mood would be checked regularly.


It’s also important to emphasize that people being prescribed this antidepressant for IBS does not mean that they have depression. The dose recommended for IBS patients is significantly lower that what would be prescribed for someone who is suffering from serious depression.


For more information on the study, UK residents can reach out to the IBS Network for more information.

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