Skeletal formula of nortriptyline
Ball-and-stick model of the nortriptyline molecule
Clinical data
Trade names Aventyl
AHFS/ Monograph
MedlinePlus a682620
  • AU: C
Routes of
ATC code N06AA10 (WHO)
Legal status
Legal status
Pharmacokinetic data
Bioavailability High
Metabolism Hepatic
Biological half-life 16 and 90 hours
Excretion Renal
CAS Number 72-69-5 YesY
894-71-3 (hydrochloride)
PubChem (CID) 4543
DrugBank DB00540 YesY
ChemSpider 4384 YesY
KEGG D08288 YesY
ECHA InfoCard 100.000.717
Chemical and physical data
Formula C19H21N
Molar mass 263.38 g/mol
3D model (Jmol) Interactive image

Nortriptyline is a second-generation tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) marketed as the hydrochloride salt under the trade names Sensoval, Aventyl, Pamelor, Norpress, Allegron, Noritren and Nortrilen. It is used in the treatment of major depression and childhood nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting). Its off-label uses include treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain and migraine, and labile affect in some neurological disorders.

Medical uses

Nortriptyline is USFDA-approved for the treatment of major depression. In the United Kingdom, it may also be used for treating nocturnal enuresis, with courses of treatment lasting no more than three months. It is also used off-label for the treatment of panic disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine prophylaxis and chronic pain or neuralgia modification, particularly temporomandibular joint disorder.[1] It can also aid in quitting smoking, with one study showing a six-month abstinence rate of 14% for subjects receiving nortriptyline compared to 3% for subjects not undergoing pharmacological treatment.[2] A controlled study suggests it reduces symptoms of ADHD.[3][4]

Neuropathic pain

Although not approved by the FDA for neuropathic pain, many randomized controlled trials have demonstrated the efficacy of tricyclic antidepressants for the treatment of this condition in both depressed and non-depressed individuals. Recently, an evidence-based guideline sponsored by the International Association for the Study of Pain recommends nortriptyline as a first-line medication for neuropathic pain.[5]

Side effects

The most common side effects include dry mouth, sedation, constipation, and increased appetite, mild blurred vision, tinnitus, often euphoria and mania. An occasional side effect is a rapid or irregular heartbeat. Alcohol may exacerbate some of its side effects.

However, fewer and milder side effects occur with nortriptyline than tertiary tricyclic antidepressants such as imipramine and amitriptyline. For this reason nortriptyline is preferred to other tricyclic antidepressants, particularly with older adults, which also improves compliance.

A study with men has found that treatment with nortriptyline is associated with higher risk of suicidal ideation compared to escitalopram.[6]


Closer monitoring is required for those with a history of cardiovascular disease, stroke, glaucoma, or seizures, as well as in persons with hyperthyroidism or receiving thyroid hormones.

Excessive consumption of alcohol in combination with nortriptyline therapy may have a potentiating effect, which may lead to the danger of increased suicidal attempts or overdosage, especially in patients with histories of emotional disturbances or suicidal ideation.


Nortriptyline should not be used in the acute recovery phase after myocardial infarction (viz, heart attack). Unlike the TCAs clomipramine and imipramine, concurrent use of nortriptyline with MAO inhibitors is safe within recommended dosage ranges.


The symptoms and the treatment of an overdose are generally the same as for the other tricyclic antidepressants, including serotonin syndrome and adverse cardiac effects. Because tricyclic antidepressants have a relatively narrow therapeutic index, the likelihood of serious overdose (both accidental and intentional) is fairly high. A nortriptyline overdose is considered a medical emergency and frequently results in death.


Nortriptyline is metabolized in the liver by the hepatic enzyme CYP2D6, and genetic variations within the gene coding for this enzyme can affect its metabolism, leading to changes in the concentrations of the drug in the body.[7] Increased concentrations of nortriptyline may increase the risk for side effects, including anticholinergic and nervous system adverse effects, while decreased concentrations may reduce the drug's efficacy.[8][9][10]

Individuals can be categorized into different types of CYP2D6 metabolizers depending on which genetic variations they carry. These metabolizer types include poor, intermediate, extensive, and ultrarapid metabolizers. Most individuals (about 77-92%) are extensive metabolizers,[10] and have "normal" metabolism of nortriptyline. Poor and intermediate metabolizers have reduced metabolism of the drug as compared to extensive metabolizers; patients with these metabolizer types may have an increased probability of experiencing side effects. Ultrarapid metabolizers use nortriptyline much faster than extensive metabolizers; patients with this metabolizer type may have a greater chance of experiencing pharmacological failure.[8][9][10]

The Clinical Pharmacogenetics Implementation Consortium recommends avoiding nortriptyline in persons who are CYP2D6 ultrarapid or poor metabolizers, due to the risk for a lack of efficacy and side effects, respectively. A reduction in starting dose is recommended for patients who are CYP2D6 intermediate metabolizers. If use of nortriptyline is warranted, therapeutic drug monitoring is recommended to guide dose adjustments.[10] The Dutch Pharmacogenetics Working Group recommends reducing the dose of nortriptyline in CYP2D6 poor or intermediate metabolizers, and selecting an alternative drug or increasing the dose in ultrarapid metabolizers.[11]


50mg (left) and 25mg generic Nortriptyline HCL capsules made by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries

Nortriptyline is an active metabolite of amitriptyline by demethylation in the liver. Its pharmacologic profile is as follows:[12][13]

Receptor/Transporter Protein Binding Affinity (Ki[nM]) Receptor location and species
SERT 16.5 Human, cloned
NET 4.37 Human, cloned
DAT 3100 Human, cloned
5-HT1A 294 Human, brain
5-HT2A 5 Rat, cloned
5-HT2C 8.5 Rat, cloned
5-HT6 148 Rat, cloned
α1 55 Human, brain
α2 2030 Human, brain
β >10000 Mammalian, brain
M1 40 Human, cloned
M2 110 Human, cloned
M3 50 Human, cloned
M4 84 Human, cloned
M5 97 Human, cloned
D2 2570 Human, brain
H1 15.1 Human, cloned
Sigma receptor 2000 Guinea pig, brain

These effects account for some therapeutic actions as well as for most side effects such as sedation, hypotension, anticholinergic effects, etc. Nortriptyline may also have a sleep-improving effect due to its affinity for 5HT2A and histaminergic receptors.[14] In the short term; however, nortriptyline may disturb sleep due to its activating effect.

Like other tricyclic antidepressants, nortriptyline also blocks sodium channels, possibly accounting in part for its analgesic action.

In one study of long-term efficacy, nortriptyline showed a higher relapse rate in comparison with phenelzine in individuals being treated for depression, possibly due to the metabolite 10-hydroxynortriptyline being produced.[15] The authors of a review noted that the nortriptyline group had more episodes prior to treatment.[15]


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  3. Wilens TE, Biederman J, Geist DE, Steingard R, Spencer T (Mar 1993). "Nortriptyline in the treatment of ADHD: a chart review of 58 cases". Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 32 (2): 343–9. doi:10.1097/00004583-199303000-00015. PMID 8444763.
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