Empirically Supported Use of Psychiatric Medications in Adolescents and Adults With IBD

Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2016 Jun;22(6):1509-22. doi: 10.1097/MIB.0000000000000734.


Background: The use of psychotropic medications, particularly antidepressants, is common in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in spite of a lack of their robust efficacy in this population. This review provides an overview of the use trends of different classes of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication and their effects on mood, nervous system function, gastrointestinal physiology and immunity drawing from the literature available in the general population, other medical conditions, and when available, patients with IBD. It also covers the evidence base for the actions, efficacy, and potential complications of antidepressants organized by different classes.

Methods: We conducted a PubMed search of articles relating the different drug classes probed to the terms above in different populations of interest. All types of articles were accepted including case reports and series, open and randomized trials, reviews, and expert opinion. We also examined the reference lists of the publications found.

Results: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are the most commonly prescribed agents for anxiety and depression in patients with IBD, though their efficacy for these conditions in the general population are mild to moderate at best. SSRIs are generally well tolerated, though at higher doses, they, like most antidepressant classes, can be associated with activation, serotonergic syndrome, and increased suicidal ideation. TCAs have many more serious side effects but have some shown efficacy for functional GI symptoms. A newer class, the serotonin noradrenergic reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), can be effective for refractory depression, anxiety and chronic pain syndromes with a side effect profile similar to both SSRIs and more mild manifestations of TCAs. Mirtazapine has moderate efficacy for depression if sedation and weight gain side effects are tolerated and some small support for use in nausea and vomiting. Bupropion targets dopamine and noradrenaline reuptake and has moderate efficacy for depression, and some small support for use in fatigue and smoking cessation. Buspirone has an indication for generalized anxiety disorder though studies show only a minimal benefit. It has some growing evidence for use in functional dyspepsia. Most of these agents have physiological effects on the brain, immune system, and gastrointestinal tract (with the exception of bupropion) hence their therapeutic and side effects manifested in these systems.

Conclusion: Antidepressant medications are frequently prescribed for depression, anxiety disorders, and chronic pain syndromes, but overall support for their efficacy is modest at best. Psychological interventions have growing support for having much more robust effects without the side effects of antidepressants and should be considered first-line treatment or at least an adjunct to psychotropic medications for these conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect / drug effects
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / pharmacology*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Anxiety / drug therapy*
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Bupropion / pharmacology
  • Buspirone / pharmacology
  • Depression / drug therapy*
  • Depression / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Immunity / drug effects
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / psychology*
  • Mianserin / analogs & derivatives
  • Mianserin / pharmacology
  • Mirtazapine
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors
  • Bupropion
  • Mianserin
  • Mirtazapine
  • Buspirone