Desipramine: Uses, Benefits, Dosage, Side Effects, Reviews

Desipramine, also known by its brand name Norpramin, is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) medication that has been primarily used in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Desipramine is prescribed off-label for other conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), neuropathic pain, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, its use has decreased in recent years due to the availability of newer antidepressant medications with potentially fewer side effects.

Desipramine was developed in the 1960s as part of the effort to discover new antidepressant medications. It was synthesized by a Swiss pharmaceutical company called Geigy (now Novartis) and later introduced to the market. Desipramine was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of depression in the early 1970s.

Desipramine belongs to a class of medications known as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). TCAs were among the first generation of antidepressants to be developed and were widely used throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These medications were developed based on the understanding that imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, were involved in depression.

The main benefits of desipramine include:

1.      Treatment of depression: Desipramine is effective in relieving symptoms of depression, including sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness.

2.      Relief of anxiety: Desipramine can also help alleviate symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, by reducing excessive worrying, restlessness, and tension.

3.      Management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Desipramine is sometimes used as an alternative treatment for ADHD, particularly in cases where other medications have not been effective. It can help improve concentration, reduce impulsivity, and decrease hyperactivity.

4.      Pain management: Desipramine has been found to be beneficial in certain chronic pain conditions, such as neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia. It can help reduce pain intensity and improve overall pain control.

5.      Prevention of migraine headaches: Desipramine may be used as a preventive medication for migraine headaches. It can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines and make them more manageable.

How it works

Desipramine works by inhibiting the reuptake of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation. By blocking the reuptake, it increases the concentration of norepinephrine in the brain, which is believed to help alleviate depressive symptoms. Desipramine is still available as a prescription medication, although it is less commonly prescribed compared to newer antidepressants. Healthcare providers may consider it as a treatment option for certain individuals based on their specific needs and response to other medications.

Desipramine dosage

The appropriate dosage of desipramine (Norpramin) can vary depending on several factors, including the individual’s age, medical condition, response to treatment, and any other medications they may be taking. Dosage recommendations should always be determined by a healthcare professional who can consider these factors and provide personalized guidance.

However, as a general guideline, the typical starting dose of desipramine for adults is around 75 mg per day, divided into multiple doses throughout the day. The dose may be gradually increased over time, based on the individual’s response and tolerability, up to a maximum recommended daily dose of 300 mg.

For elderly individuals or those with liver or kidney impairment, a lower initial dose may be prescribed to reduce the risk of adverse effects. In such cases, starting with 25 mg per day and gradually titrating up may be appropriate.

It’s important to note that the dosing regimen and duration of treatment may vary depending on the specific condition being treated. It is essential to follow the dosage instructions provided by your healthcare professional and not adjust the dosage or discontinue the medication without consulting them first.

It’s worth emphasizing that only a healthcare professional can determine the appropriate dosage for an individual based on their unique circumstances. Therefore, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional who can evaluate your specific situation and provide appropriate dosing recommendations for desipramine or any other medication.

Can a pregnant or breastfeeding woman take desipramine?

The use of desipramine during pregnancy and breastfeeding should be approached cautiously and only under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Here is some general information:

1.      Pregnancy: Desipramine falls into category C of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pregnancy categories. This means that animal studies have shown potential risks to the fetus, but there are limited human studies available. The use of desipramine during pregnancy should be carefully weighed against the potential benefits and risks to both the mother and the fetus. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider who can evaluate the specific situation and provide individualized recommendations.

2.      Breastfeeding: Desipramine is excreted into breast milk, and there is limited information on the effects of desipramine on breastfed infants. TCAs, including desipramine, may have the potential to cause side effects in nursing infants, such as sedation, poor feeding, or irritability. It is important to discuss the risks and benefits with a healthcare provider to make an informed decision about using desipramine while breastfeeding.

In both cases, the decision to use desipramine during pregnancy or breastfeeding should involve careful consideration of the potential risks to the mother’s mental health versus the potential risks to the developing fetus or the nursing infant. A healthcare professional can assess the individual situation, taking into account the severity of the condition and the availability of alternative treatment options.

Desipramine side effects

Desipramine, like other medications, can cause side effects. The severity and occurrence of these side effects can vary from person to person. It is important to note that not everyone who takes desipramine will experience side effects. Common side effects may include:

1.      Dry mouth

2.      Blurred vision

3.      Constipation

4.      Urinary retention or difficulty urinating

5.      Increased sweating

6.      Dizziness or lightheadedness

7.      Headache

8.      Nausea or vomiting

9.      Increased or irregular heart rate

10.    Changes in appetite or weight

11.    Insomnia or sleep disturbances

12.    Nervousness or anxiety

13.    Tremors or shaking

14.    Sexual dysfunction, such as decreased libido or difficulty achieving orgasm.

It’s important to report any side effects to your healthcare provider, as they can provide guidance on managing them or adjusting the dosage if necessary. In some cases, the side effects may subside over time as your body adjusts to the medication. However, if you experience severe or persistent side effects, it is important to seek medical attention.


Desipramine can interact with other medications, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbal supplements. These interactions can affect the way desipramine works in the body or increase the risk of side effects. Here are some examples of medication interactions with desipramine:

1.      Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Combining desipramine with MAOIs or within 14 days of stopping MAOIs can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome, which is characterized by symptoms such as agitation, hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, fever, and muscle stiffness.

2.      Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Co-administration of desipramine with SSRIs may increase the risk of serotonin syndrome. Close monitoring and dosage adjustments may be necessary if both medications are used together.

3.      Other tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): Concurrent use of desipramine with other TCAs may increase the risk of side effects, such as rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and sedation.

4.      Anticholinergic drugs: Desipramine has anticholinergic properties, so combining it with other medications with similar effects (such as antihistamines, certain antipsychotics, and bladder medications) can increase the risk of side effects like dry mouth, blurred vision, urinary retention, and constipation.

5.      Blood thinners: Desipramine may interact with blood thinning medications, such as warfarin, and affect their effectiveness. Close monitoring of blood clotting parameters may be required.

6.      Cimetidine: Cimetidine, a medication used to treat stomach ulcers, may increase the blood levels of desipramine, potentially leading to an increased risk of side effects.

These are just a few examples, and there may be other medications that can interact with desipramine. It is crucial to inform your healthcare provider about all the medications you are taking to ensure safe and effective treatment. They can review your medication regimen and make any necessary adjustments or provide guidance on potential interactions.


Dr. Oche Otorkpa PG Cert, MPH, PhD

Dr. Oche is a seasoned Public Health specialist who holds a post graduate certificate in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an MPH, and a PhD both from Texila American University. He is a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK. He authored two books: "The Unseen Terrorist," published by AuthorHouse UK, and "The Night Before I Killed Addiction."
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