Jan. 18, 2011 -- Low doses of the antidepressantLexapro (escitalopram) cooled off hot flashes better than placebo in about 200 menopausal women, according to a new study.
''We believe escitalopram provides an option for treating moderate to severe hot flashes that are disrupting people's lives and quality of life," says study researcher Ellen Freeman, PhD, a research professor in the department of obstetrics-gynecology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia.
In the study, Freeman found the antidepressant reduced both the number and severity of hot flashes compared to placebo. Previous studies of other antidepressants have yielded mixed results, according to Freeman.
The new study findings suggest Lexapro can provide an option for women reluctant to take hormone therapy.
The findings are published in TheJournal of the American Medical Association.
Freeman and colleagues assigned 205 women who were experiencing hot flashes either to a group which took 10 to 20 milligrams a day of Lexapro or a placebo for eight weeks.
The women, on average about age 54, did not know whether they were taking the drug or the placebo. The women were asked to keep daily diaries noting the frequency and severity of their hot flashes.
At the study start, the average frequency of hot flashes was nearly 10 per day.
When Freeman's team looked at the seven-day average of hot flash frequency at week eight in those who kept the daily diaries, they found:
Those taking the antidepressant reported 5.26 hot flashes a day, a decline of 47% or about four and 1/2 fewer a day.
Those taking the placebo reported 6.43 hot flashes a day, a decline of 33% or about three fewer a day.
The severity of the hot flashes went down more in the Lexapro-treated women than those on placebo. On a 3-point scale, the average overall hot flash severity score at the study start was 2.17. At week eight, those on Lexapro reported an average severity score of 1.63, termed mild to moderate. Those on placebo by week eight had a severity score of 1.89.