Antidepressant may reduce frequency and severity of menopausal hot flashes

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Monday, January 24, 2011; 8:59 PM

menopause

An antidepressant may reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes

THE QUESTION Women experiencing menopause-related hot flashes often do not want to take hormone therapy because of documented risks, and the effectiveness of herbal alternatives has not been proved. Might an antidepressant be an option to lessen symptoms?

THIS STUDY involved 205 peri- and post-menopausal women, most in their mid-50s, who had an average of about 10 hot flashes a day but were otherwise healthy. They were randomly assigned to take the antidepressant Lexapro (escitalopram) or a placebo daily. After eight weeks, hot flashes were fewer and less severe among those taking the antidepressant than among the others. About 55 percent of the women taking Lexapro, vs. 36 percent of those in the placebo group, reported at least 50 percent fewer hot flashes, and 19 percent (vs. 9 percent) saw a decrease of at least 75 percent.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Women who have hot flashes, perhaps the most common symptom of menopause. They are believed to be triggered by the lowering of estrogen levels in the body, which somehow disrupts the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature.

CAVEATS Some data in the study came from the participants' recordings and ratings of their symptoms. Lexapro is approved for treating anxiety and major depression; its use for hot flashes would be off-label.

FIND THIS STUDY Jan. 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (www.jama.com ).

LEARN MORE ABOUT hot flashes at www.womenshealth.gov/menopause and www.menopause.org.

- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.


© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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