Tricyclic antidepressant prescribing for nonpsychiatric disorders. An analysis based on data from the 1985 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey

J Fam Pract. 1991 Jul;33(1):24-32.


Background: Primary care physicians often do not document a psychiatric diagnosis when prescribing psychotropic medications. Recent literature suggests the potential benefit of tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) in a number of nonpsychiatric conditions (low back pain, peptic disease, fibrositis, headache, peripheral neuropathy, rheumatoid disease, and irritable colon).

Methods: Data from the 1985 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) were used to categorize the primary diagnoses given during office visits in which tricyclic antidepressants were prescribed. Comparisons were made across specialties.

Results: Primary care physicians prescribed tricyclic antidepressants in 1% of all visits (an estimated 2,892,000 visits per year). Whereas 50% of these visits at which TCAs were prescribed were for documented psychiatric illnesses or conditions, 15% were for nonpsychiatric TCA-responsive conditions. The majority of visits by patients with these disorders were to primary care physicians. The pattern of TCA prescribing for these disorders by primary care physicians parallels that of other medical specialties except that primary care physicians prescribed TCAs for nonpsychiatric TCA-responsive disorders less frequently than did other medical specialists.

Conclusions: When nonpsychiatric TCA-responsive disorders are included, primary care physicians document with appropriate diagnoses 15% more of their TCA prescriptions than previous studies have indicated. An understanding of the 35% of TCA prescriptions that do not show proper documentation will require further study and information not available from the NAMCS:

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Prescriptions*
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine
  • Male
  • Medicine
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Psychiatry
  • Specialization
  • United States


  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic