March 2011

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Health Capsule

Antidepressant Reduces Hot Flashes

Hot flashes are among the most bothersome symptoms for women during menopause. A new study reports that an antidepressant drug may reduce the number and severity of hot flashes.

The main treatment for hot flashes has long been menopausal hormone therapy. But the therapy has been shown in some women to raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that hormone therapy be used for the shortest time and at the lowest dose that relieves symptoms.

To look at other options, an NIH-funded clinical trial enrolled more than 200 healthy perimenopausal or postmenopausal women. About half were given a daily dose of the antidepressant drug escitalopram. The others received an inactive pill, or placebo.

After 4 weeks, women taking escitalopram had an average of 44% fewer hot flashes. In comparison, women taking the placebo had an average of 26% fewer hot flashes.

Escitalopram treatment led to further reductions in hot flashes after 8 weeks. Women taking the drug also reported that their hot flashes became less severe and bothersome. Most said they were satisfied with the treatment. They reported few negative side effects.

It’s not clear exactly how anti–depressants like escitalopram help to relieve hot flashes. Still, the findings suggest that these drugs might be a safe alternative to menopausal hormone therapy.