A widely prescribed antidepressant could offer a new way to fight a common symptom that leaves some older women hot — and bothered.
Menopausal hot flashes are sometimes called “power surges” or other cutesy, pro-woman euphemisms. But for many, that sudden sensation of heat that floods the neck and face is seriously irksome and far too frequent. “For some women who experience severe hot flashes, they definitely interfere with quality of life. They disturb sleep, they sometimes make it difficult to concentrate or work effectively,” said University of Pennsylvania researcher Ellen Freeman.
She and colleagues tested the drug Lexapro against hot flashes. Fifty-five percent of the women who received the antidepressant said the frequency of their hot flashes reduced by half or more. Among the women who got a placebo, just 36 percent reported a similar reduction in symptoms. Several years ago, when a large research study revealed that hormone therapy could boost a woman’s risk for breast cancer, many women went to their doctor looking for a safer alternative. Right now, though, hormone therapy is the only treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “So other treatments, including the one that we just studied are what we call off label. While we have shown that this is an effective treatment it does not have FDA approval for this indication,” Freeman said.