Cardiovascular effects of therapeutic doses of tricyclic antidepressants in children and adolescents

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1996 Nov;35(11):1491-501. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199611000-00018.


Objective: Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) play an important role in the treatment of pediatric psychiatric disorders. Despite widespread clinical use, concerns about their possible cardiovascular risk have arisen following several published reports of sudden death associated with their use in children. Accordingly, available evidence concerning TCA-associated cardiovascular effects in children and adolescents was surveyed.

Method: A systematic literature search from 1967 to 1996 identified relevant pediatric studies that evaluated cardiovascular effects of TCAs.

Results: Twenty-four studies involving 730 children and adolescents given imipramine, amitriptyline, desipramine, or nortriptyline were found. TCA treatment was associated with minor increases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, in heart rate, and in the electrocardiographic (ECG) conduction parameters, PR, QRS, and QTc. Holter ECG monitoring and exercise testing also revealed minor treatment effects. Some ECG changes related to specific TCAs emerged. Few age-related ECG differences in TCA-treated children, adolescents, or adults were detected. Associations of ECG abnormalities and relatively higher serum TCA levels were found.

Conclusion: TCA treatment in children and adolescents, like that in adults, is associated with cardiovascular changes of uncertain, but probably minor, clinical significance. More information is needed on the contribution of other physiological conditions on the cardiovascular system during exposure to TCAs. Guidelines for using TCAs in children and adolescents are presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / adverse effects*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology*
  • Electrocardiography, Ambulatory / drug effects*
  • Exercise Test / drug effects
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Factors


  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic