While hormone therapy has long been known as the most effective treatment for menopausal hot flashes, night sweats, and the sleepless nights that come with them, a new Brigham and Women’s Hospital study found that a generic antidepressant is nearly as effective at alleviating symptoms — without causing the increased breast cancer risks associated with hormone use.
In the study published earlier this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, 339 menopausal women who had an average of eight episodes a day of hot flashes or night sweats were randomly assigned to receive either estrogen therapy, the antidepressant venlafaxine hydrochloride (Effexor), or a placebo for eight weeks; all of those who took a pill in the study had relief from their symptoms — including those on the placebo.
Those who took estrogen had 3.9 hot flashes or night sweats a day compared to 4.4 episodes in the antidepressant group, and 5.5 in the group that took placebos. About 70 percent of the estrogen users were satisfied with their treatment compared to 51 percent of the venlafaxine users and 38 percent of the placebo takers.
“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,” said study leader Dr. Hadine Joffe, director of the Women’s Hormone and Aging Research Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
This is the first time estrogen therapy and antidepressants have been compared in a head-to-head trial, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
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