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Antidepressants and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Symptom Syndromes

  • Jeffrey L. Jackson, Patrick G. O'Malley and Kurt Kroenke


Somatic symptoms are common in primary care and clinicians often prescribe antidepressants as adjunctive therapy. There are many possible reasons why this may work, including treating comorbid depression or anxiety, inhibition of ascending pain pathways, inhibition of prefrontal cortical areas that are responsible for “attention” to noxious stimuli, and the direct effects of the medications on the syndrome.There are good theoretical reasons why antidepressants with balanced norepinephrine and serotonin effects may be more effective than those that act predominantly on one pathway, though head-to-head comparisons are lacking. For the 11 painful syndromes review in this article, cognitive-behavioral therapy is most consistently demonstrated to be effective, with various antidepressants having more or less randomized controlled data supporting or refuting effectiveness.This article reviews the randomized controlled trial data for the use of antidepressant and cognitive-behavior therapy for 11 somatic syndromes: irritable bowel syndrome, chronic back pain, headache, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, tinnitus, menopausal symptoms, chronic facial pain, noncardiac chest pain, interstitial cystitis, and chronic pelvic pain. For some syndromes, the data for or against treatment effectiveness is relatively robust, for many, however, the data, one way or the other is scanty.


Corresponding author

Please direct all correspondence to: Jeffrey L. Jackson, MD, MPH, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Medicine-EDP, 4301 Jones Bridge Road, Bethesda, MD 20814; Tel: 202-782-5603, Fax: 202-782-7363; E-mail:


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Antidepressants and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Symptom Syndromes

  • Jeffrey L. Jackson, Patrick G. O'Malley and Kurt Kroenke


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