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Antidepressant may offer hot-flash relief

January 18, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Several hormonal conditions can cause hot flashes in women, but the most common reason is menopause. Now research shows a widely used antidepressant may offer up some relief from hot flashes.Menopausal hot flashes are often treated with hormonal therapy but recent studies show these reproductive hormones are related to certain health risks. There currently is no other FDA-approved treatment for hot flashes.

Hot flashes affect millions of otherwise healthy menopausal women. A new study shows an antidepressant medication may help reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes.

Some women going through menopause can explain exactly what it feels like to have a hot flash.

"All of a sudden someone lit an incinerator at my feet that would go up toward the top of my head," said Barbara Urian.

"Like someone struck a match and put it at the top of my head and it slowly went down my body," said Loretta Johnson.

Like many women, Johnson and Urian elected to pass on hormone therapy because of the risks. Nothing else seemed to really help.

"People are looking for options to the hormones so we were interested in looking at another medical treatment," said Dr. Ellen W. Freeman, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

The answer: the antidepressant Lexapro, generically known as escitalopram.

In a report provided by the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found about half of healthy menopausal women whose only complaint was severe hot flashes reported a significant improvement.

"Hot flash frequency decreased significantly in the women who took the escitalopram," said Freeman. "When the women stopped taking their medication, the women in the escitalopram group experienced a very rapid return of their hot flashes."

Johnson and Urian knew almost immediately they were taking the antidepressant and both say it helped.

"I'm definitely going to stay on it you know as long as I can because it really helps," said Johnson.

"Everything in my life was better. Just the fact that I could get up in the morning and not feel like I had been going 12 rounds all night did quite a bit for how pleasant I was in the morning," said Urian.

Researchers also say the medication was well-tolerated by the women who took it.

In the eight week multi-center study, 47 percent of women in the Lexapro group experienced a reduction in hot flashes, compared to 33 percent in the placebo group, which translates into one less hot flash a day.

Because of this, researchers suggest non-drug or behavioral approaches may also be effective in reducing hot flashes.