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Health Team

Anti-depressants may cool menopausal hot flashes

Posted January 18, 2011 4:32 p.m. EST
Updated January 18, 2011 6:35 p.m. EST

Menopausal hot flashes are often treated with hormonal therapy, but recent studies show those hormones can be linked to certain health risks. Now, researchers say, anti-depressants could be the answer.

Hot flashes affect millions of women, yet there's no other FDA-approved treatment besides hormone therapy.

For women like Barbara Urian, hot flashes can be very uncomfortable.

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

Loretta Johnson felt the heat start in her head, and then move its way down.

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

Johnson and Urian chose not to take hormone therapy for their symptoms because of the risks; but nothing else seemed to help.

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

It's called escitalopram – an anti-depressant medication.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at healthy menopausal women whose only major complaint was severe hot flashes.

Over 8 weeks, half took the medication while the rest took a placebo, and all of them kept a daily diary of their hot flashes.

"Hot flash frequency decreased significantly in the women who took the escitalopram," Freeman said.

When the women stopped the medication, the hot flashes returned.

Johnson and Urian said they knew they were in the medication group because it helped.

 "Everything in my life was better," Johnson said.

Researchers also said that women who took the medication tolerated it well. Trial results did show a placebo response, which suggests that non-drug or behavioral approaches may also be effective in reducing hot flashes.