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Anti-depressants may help treat hot flashes, menopausal symptoms

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Although menopause, the time when a woman ceases having menstrual periods and loses her fertility, is a natural and inevitable part of a woman's life, going through the process can be an uncomfortable period for women.

The natural process is associated with hot flashes, the sudden feeling of heat that spreads over the body, sleepless nights, night sweats, loss of energy and mood changes. Although hormone therapy is prescribed for many women who go through the menopausal stage, some women refuse the treatment because of associated risks such as increased odds for developing heart disease, blood clots, stroke and breast cancer.

A new study, however, finds that anti-depressants can help relieve hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause with reduced risks for side effects.  For the study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine  on May 26, researchers recruited more than 300 menopausal women who were between 40 and 62 years old and who had about eight episodes of hot flashes and night sweats per day.

To determine the effectiveness of a common antidepressant drug and hormone therapy in easing menopausal symptoms, the researchers divided the participants into three groups. The first group received the oral estrogen estradiol, the second the antidepressant venlafaxine hydrochloride and the third received placebo for eight weeks.

The researchers found that those who received estrogen therapy had experienced the most relief from menopausal symptoms with 3.9 hot flashes or night sweats a day compared with 4.4 in those who received the antidepressant and 5.5 in those who had placebos.

Seventy percent of those who received estrogen therapy were also satisfied with their treatment compared with only 51 percent of the antidepressant users and 38 percent of those who received placebo suggesting that antidepressants can help ease the symptoms of menopause.

"Low-dose oral estradiol and venlafaxine are effective treatments for VMS in women during midlife," the researchers wrote. "While the efficacy of low-dose estradiol may be slightly superior to that of venlafaxine, the difference is small and of uncertain clinical relevance.

Study researcher Hadine Joffe, from the Women's Hormone and Aging Research Program at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said that estrogen therapy remains the most effective treatment for treating menopausal symptoms but an alternative treatment can be helpful for women who can't have hormone therapy.

"Estrogen therapy is still the gold standard for alleviating hot flashes and night sweats, but it's nice to see that alternative treatments can work nearly as well," Joffe said.

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