By Robert Preidt
Estrogen therapy is considered the "gold standard" treatment for hot flashes and night sweats, but is used at the lowest possible doses due to potential risks associated with the treatment, according to the researchers. These risks include blood clots and an increased risk of certain cancers.
"Our new findings provide critical data for physicians and women making treatment decisions for hot flashes/night sweats. Our data show that first-line hormonal and non-hormonal pharmacological treatments are well-tolerated and effective options for alleviating symptoms," study author Dr. Hadine Joffe, director of the Women's Hormone and Aging Research Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said in a hospital news release.
"Hot flashes and night sweats ... affect up to 80 percent of women in midlife and are the primary menopause-related symptoms leading menopausal women to seek medical attention," Joffe noted.
The study included almost 350 women who were either entering menopause or had been through menopause. All of the women had hot flashes and night sweats. They were randomly assigned to receive either low-dose oral estrogen estradiol, low-dose venlafaxine hydrochloride extended release, or an inactive placebo.
After eight weeks, hot flashes and night sweats decreased by nearly 53 percent among women on estrogen therapy. In women taking venlafaxine, those symptoms dropped by nearly 48 percent. Almost 29 percent of those taking a placebo also had improvement in their symptoms.
Compared to the placebo, estrogen therapy reduced the number of hot flashes or night sweats by an average of 2.3 per day. Venlafaxine reduced the number of these symptoms by 1.8 per day, according to the study published online May 26 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, is the first to compare estrogen therapy and a non-hormonal treatment, and shows that venlafaxine offers an effective alternative to hormone therapy.
One expert called for further research on the finding.
"As expected, the study shows the best relief from estradiol, however venlafaxine, a non-hormonal treatment for hot flashes, was also beneficial," said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City. "Although this is a small study, larger studies are worth pursuing."