IBS Sufferers--a Question About Meds

Updated on February 26, 2014
M.H. asks from Saint Paul, MN
10 answers

Have any of you been prescribed or taken nortriptyline (an anti-depressant) for IBS? If so, did it help and did you experience any side effects? I have had IBS for years and have tried a variety of meds, diets, etc., some with limited success but nothing that has alleviated my problems. FYI, I've had many, many tests, including a recent colonoscopy, that have ruled out more serious conditions or Celiac. Within the last year I've discovered that I have a significant problem consuming fiber, which is frustrating because I enjoy fruits and vegetables and I try to eat a healthy diet as much as possible. Yesterday my doctor (who I like and trust) prescribed nortriptyline and made it sound like it could completely eliminate my problems consuming fiber, although it can takes months or weeks to work. He said the "only side effect" is drowsiness. I was a little surprised to learn when I filled the prescription that it is used primarily as an anti-depressant and has a list of dire sounding possible side effects. I assume these are worst case scenario situations and rarely happen, but I'd like to hear from anyone who's tried it. I have a message into the pharmacist and won't start the med until I've talked to her, but she hasn't gotten back to me yet. Thanks!

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So What Happened?

I have tried a few different dietary things and consulted with a nutritionist early on. I try to eat relatively low fat and have discovered I can not tolerate any raw onions. Other than that I haven't had much luck with dietary changes. Admittedly, I am not really an extreme elimination diet type of person. I'm more of a "all things in moderation" kind of person. I did eliminate diet soda years ago and that hasn't necessarily helped my IBS, but it does make me feel better generally. I exercise regularly and view that as an important part of my "treatment."

I talked to a pharmacist at my pharmacy and this particular medication has been around 40-50 years and is rarely used as an anti-depressant any more. It is used primarily for migraines and neuropathy pain and sometimes IBS. The dosage I have been prescribed is the lowest you can take and isn't even close to the dosage that would be prescribed to use it as an anti-depressant. My doctor doesn't really push meds on me although we've experimented with a few things over the years. He knows I'm not a huge meds person, but I am also open to trying something if the benefits outweigh the side effects. I've had IBS for 10 years or possibly more and never knew that anti-depressants were sometimes prescribed for it so I am curious to hear the experiences of others.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

I was prescribed it in conjunction with other meds for migraines, and I took myself off it fairly quickly because it just made me feel "off." Plus any medication that I can't have grapefruit with, isn't going to work for me. I like my grapefruit.

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answers from Houston on

My doctor prescribed prozac (also an anti depressant) for my IBS. It has made an amazing difference. I had a lot of anxiety with mine and hated to leave the house because as soon as I would, my stomach would turn into knots and I would have to run and find a restroom. Now I have very few episodes and can usually leave the house as I please.

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answers from Atlanta on

Please, please, please don't take an antidepressant. It doesn't help IBS and the side effects are common, not rare. You also have to wean off of them like a narcotic. I cured my Ulcerative Colitis naturally. You can eat fiber. Absorbable nutrition is key. Your intestinal tract is already compromised so you need the best. Slippery Elm root will heal the internal tissue. It can take a while because you are dealing with waste on an irritated surface but it does heal. Vitamin A is extremely important. You can get too much too quick so Vit A needs to be a temporary thing. Please contact me if you want to talk. I dealt with UC for 40 years under a doctors care and cured it myself after much research! I'm willing to share!

God bless,

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answers from Sacramento on

I went on Celexa for depression a few years ago and it did wonders for my IBS. It was really just a surprise bonus; not intended at all. Unfortunately, I couldn't justify staying on Celexa long-term because once my depression was over, I was ready to be med-free.

I still deal with IBS issues now and then, but for the most part keep it under control with diet and exercise. I know my trigger foods -- coffee, citrus (fruits & vegetables in general have to be taken in strict moderation), soda/carbonation -- and avoid them like they're poison.

I'd say if you've exhausted your other options, it's time to give medication a try. Worst case, you don't like this medication, you taper off of it. I think it's worth a shot if it might improve your quality of life.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I have IBS and have diarrhea nearly every day. I have to watch my intake of liquids before eating a good solid meal unless I'm at home and can spend the day knowing just how far it is to the nearest toilet...lol.

The doc that diagnosed me told me to eat a 1/4-1/2 cup of 100% Bran cereal every morning. It would drawn in the moisture needed for constipation and it would absorb the moisture that was present and giving me diarrhea.

He also told me that just about every med for IBS has the side effect of making the other issue what you have to deal with. If you try to make it easier to poop you'll likely get the runs and vice versa.



answers from Seattle on

I haven't taken the medication you are asking about, but recently did a little research on low carb - grain free eating and IBS. Have you ever tried a strict grain-free diet? I am on one now and each time I slip up and have carbs, I suffer the consequences big-time. Just curious if you have had the same experience. Good luck!



answers from Portland on

Hi Yellow,

I cannot tell you about medications for IBS-- I am affected by it, but actually use a FOD-MAPS free diet and cook all of my vegetables and fruits, which has helped considerably. I do take Prilosec when I eat something that might give me trouble (garlic, onions, other foods) and have had good luck with that.

My old doctor wanted me to go on Prozac to deal with it; I wanted to wait and try a few changes instead. I'm glad I did.

Here's some information on FODMAPS (these are the sugars foods produce when digesting in the gut).


I also limit meats to just low-mercury fish and eggs; and I don't eat cow milk products. Most of my carbs have to be processed (bread, rice, polenta, cooked steel cut oats), too, but it's worth it.



answers from Minneapolis on

Hi M..
If you feel it's not a good idea to use a med long term to maybe get effect- then trust your instinct. Read the side effects. If you google the med, some sites will divide common vs uncommon ones so that may help your decision. I know of those with IBS that like you more fiber is not better. I also know of those who went gluten free (while time consuming and a pain) it worked for them. Dairy is another trigger for some of my clients. We also use Aloe- it's in liquid or powder form and if you want more information ( a line of health products yes as a part time wellness coach) on some things you could try that way, email me at bjarmoluk @yahoo . I'm on call this week ( work in medical field) so mention in the subject line and I'll email back as soon as I can.
Trust your know of your body. Celiac/IBS is one of those much diagnosed/labelled things you 1) might not want in your med chart for numerous reasons 2) often labelled as a catch all like they do now for fibromyalsia.
Doctors are of a new breed where it's quick and easy to prescribe the newest and greatest med. I use a doctor that believes more in any natural method before drugs and won't take a med unless it's been on the market for 7 years. The FDA puts out stuff faster ( due to pressure) and often the side effects don't come out til years down the road (recall diet pills that led to damaged heart valves?). Anyway-- enough song and dance.

Keep searching for your solution.

B. J
Perfusionist, wellness coach, mom of 12 yo twin girls.



answers from Portland on

I don't know about that particular med, but my sis-in-law uses Prozac and it really helps her. I started having problems with it a few years ago. I just figured it was life and moved on as much as I could. Thankfully, mine wasn't too bad. I went Gluten-Free the week before Halloween. I have not had more than a handful of episodes, usually after I eat gluten, and I feel great.

I don't know if you have tried this diet or not. I was not diagnosed with anything in particular, it was more of a rule out. I had the colonoscopy, the upper endoscopy, and biopsies as well as blood tests. They found white blood cells, but nothing conclusive. The gastro doc recommend trying gluten free and it was amazing after a week or two. Now, I won't eat it because I know what will happen and its not worth it. Good luck. I know that meds can help, but healing the intestine is better.



answers from Kansas City on

I would suggest you look for a nutritional route instead of the drug nortriptyline due to the side effects. Usually it is used as an anti-depressant, but often anti-depressants are used for GI and other issues. I have taken it for the same reason many years ago and problems with urinary retention, (couldn't pee) because it interacted with some other things I was on.
I suffered with IBS terribly for 30 years and then I took Metamucil / Citrucil type vegetable laxatives, which helped tremendously, but in 2005, I found a better answer through patented nutrition which totally changed my life even more.
In a short time, I was medication free from many health issues and IBS is totally a non issue any more. I know MANY people who have had similar results with IBS, crohn's, ulcerative colitis, celiac, etc.
At the time I got on the nutrition, I was taking 19 different medications, from heavy narcotics to numerous over counter preparations. Today, I am still medication free, no longer disabled and feel better and am healthier than I was at 50, now am 65.

Most Drs. only know the pharmaceutical route for answers, and people are sicker than ever and going back for more meds. Unfortunately the medical community is so narrow minded and very slow to catch on that proper nutrition and diet is KEY!

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