Healthy women with menopause hot flashes may be helped by anti-depressant medication

Menopause News April 1st 2011

Possible new option for relief of menopause hot flashes

Results from a randomised controlled trial, may point the way to a new treatment path for women with unbearable menopause hot flashes, who are looking for alternatives to hormone replacement therapy.

The study, published recently in JAMA, one of the world's top medical journals, found that while taking the drug escitalopram, women tended to suffer fewer hot flashes than women in a control group who took a sugar pill (placebo) (1).

Escitalopram, belongs to the family of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, for short. These drugs are currently licensed for use in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, and they work by improving the way brain cells communicate with each other. The women who participated in this study were all healthy, with no major psychiatric problems.

Although what exactly happens in the brain to make a hot flash is still a mystery, scientists believe that the brain chemical, serotonin, may be involved. And the results from this study seem to support this.

The researchers compared frequency, severity and bother of hot flashes, in women who took the drug compared with those taking placebo. More women taking escitalopram reported greater improvement in all aspects of their hot flashes, than those taking placebo.

The difference in hot flash reduction between the groups of women was relatively modest, but statistically significant, and satisfaction was also higher in women taking the active drug (70% versus 43%).

A total of 205 women took part in this study, including similar numbers of white and African American women. Other studies have shown that African American women tend to suffer more hot flashes, but this study found no statistically significant, racial differences in response to the escitalopram treatment.

The women who took escitalopram tolerated the treatment well, and although a majority of women reported some of the common side effects associated with this medication, only 7 women stopped treatment because of them.

This study was continued for just 8 weeks, so a longer trial is necessary for more conclusive results. Further research is also needed to compare SSRIs directly with hormone therapy for menopause hot flashes.


  1. Freeman EW, Guthrie KA, Caan B et al. Efficacy of Escitalopram for Hot Flashes in Healthy Menopausal Women. JAMA 2011;305:267-74.

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Published April 1st 2011

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