Study: Antidepressants relieve hot flashes

Posted Jan. 20, 2011, at 4:53 a.m.

An antidepressant can help alleviate hot flashes that plague many menopausal women, according to new federally funded research.

A study involving 205 women found those taking the antidepressant Lexapro experienced a 47 percent reduction in number of hot flashes they were experiencing and the hot flashes they did have tended to be less severe, researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For years, many women took hormones to alleviate hots flashes. But hormone use plummeted after the federal government’s massive Women’s Health Initiative shocked women and doctors by concluding the risks of the medication outweighed its benefits.

Since then, many women have been suffering through hot flashes and searching for effective alternatives. Some small pilot studies have indicated that the newer class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin and serotonin norepinephrine reupdate inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs) might be effective.

In the new study, Ellen Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia and colleagues gave 205 women who were either starting to go through menopause who had already gone through menopause either Lexapro or a placebo for eight weeks. When the study started, the women were having an average of nearly 10 hot flashes each day.

The number of hot flashes among the women taking Lexapro, which is also known as escitalopram, dropped to about five on average after eight weeks – a 47 percent decrease or about 4.6 fewer hot flashes per day, the researchers reported. The severity of the hot flashes also decreased. Among those taking a placebo, the number of hot flashes dropped to 6.43 per day, a 33 percent decrease of 3.2 fewer hot flashes per day. Lexapro seemed to work even among women who were not anxious or depressed.

The hot flashes increased after the women stopped taking the drug but not among those taking a placebo.

Although the benefit was modest, it appeared to be significant enough that women might consider trying it, the researchers said. The study is the first to examine whether there are any racial differences in how well an antidepressant works in alleviating hot flashes. African-American women are more likely than white women to report hot flashes. The study found none.

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