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Menopause Health Center

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Antidepressant May Help Ease Hot Flashes

Study Shows Women Taking Lexapro Report Greater Relief From Hot Flashes Than Those on Placebo

Antidepressants for Hot Flashes: Lexapro Study continued...

While 55% of the women in the Lexapro group had a decrease of at least 50% in hot flash frequency at the eight-week mark, 36% of those in the placebo group did. "A 50% reduction is pretty good," Freeman says.

The researchers followed up three weeks after the study ended and the women had stopped taking the drug or placebo. They found those in the drug group reported a bigger increase in hot flashes than did those in the placebo group.

No serious adverse events were reported in either group, Freeman says.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and other sources. Freeman reports having received research support from Forest Laboratories Inc., and other pharmaceutical companies that make antidepressants. For this study, Forest, which makes escitalopram, provided the drug and placebo pills but no funding.

Exactly how the drug relieves hot flashes is not known, Freeman says. "The cause of hot flashes is not really known," she says. It is thought that the antidepressant works by providing more of the hormone serotonin to the brain, she says.

Lexapro is approved for depression in adults and teens 12 to 17 and for anxiety disorder in adults. Its use for hot flashes is considered ''off-label." Off-label drugs are prescribed for uses that have not been approved by the FDA.

Second Opinion

The new study findings are no surprise to Amanda Richards, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Medical School, who reviewed the study for WebMD.

She has prescribed antidepressants for hot flashes for some of her patients, including some who had cancer and went into surgical menopause after ovary removal, with generally good success, she says.

"It's not that it takes them away completely," she says of the drugs' effects on menopausal symptoms. But she finds, as did the study researchers, that the antidepressants do reduce the number and severity of the hot flashes.

A typical patient prescribed an antidepressant for hot flashes, she says, "will come back a couple weeks later thanking me, saying they can now work, they can manage their hot flashes."

There could be a decline in libido, she tells patients on antidepressants. But some will take that side effect, she says, in return for hot flash relief.

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