Antidepressants for Hot Flashes?

Instead of a controversial therapy, ask your doctor about a new, safer option.

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Hot flashes and night sweats torment 70 to 80 percent of all women who reach menopause. But research suggests that a common antidepressant medication may lead to cooler and drier days for some women.

For one month, scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, gave Prozac to 81 women suffering from hot flashes, then switched the women to sugar pills for a month. Using a scoring system that measured the frequency and severity of sweat assaults, researchers determined that Prozac reduced hot flashes by 50 percent. An earlier Mayo Clinic study found that a similar antidepressant, Effexor, worked slightly better than Prozac.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) also guards against these uncomfortable attacks of heat and perspiration. However, with the recent furor over health risks associated with HRT, many women can't or won't take supplemental hormones.

No one knows what causes hot flashes, but research suggests that the problem is triggered deep in the brain, says oncologist Charles Loprinzi, who led both studies. Antidepressants may short-circuit that trigger.

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