FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – It’s a bothersome and often embarrassing problem that millions of women will face in their lifetime. As many as three out of four women suffer from hot flashes during menopause, but a new study shows a drug originally used to treat depression can bring much needed relief.
Diann Smith knows just how unbearable the symptoms can be. “I would be extremely cold, teeth chattering and the next minute I would be pouring down sweat,” the Fort Worth mother said. “It would be like a slow burn, like someone turned a furnace on in my stomach, and it would rise up and literally take my breath away.”
Smith is a breast cancer survivor who says she first started experiencing menopausal symptoms after undergoing chemotherapy. According to doctors the treatment is a common trigger for hot flashes.
“I can remember the first time [it happened] I was embarrassed. I was giving a presentation in front of a group of IT professionals, and it was mostly men at the table,” Smith recalled. “During the presentation I got hot, and I was like ‘oh my gosh I’m going to run out of this room any second now’.”
To help with the problem Smith’s oncologist prescribed an anti-depressant called Lexapro. Smith says at first she had reservations. “I’d never been on anti-depressants and I was worried about how it would affect me, but it helps with hot flashes.”
Now that she’s on the medication Smith says she only gets hot flashes from time to time. “I’ll have little flare ups during the daytime. They usually last about a minute.”
Dr. Darren Tate, a Texas Health Fort Worth physician, has prescribed Lexapro to patients who are starting to go through menopause. “These are alternative drugs that can help control those symptoms,” he explained. “Some of the studies show up to 70 percent efficacy in reducing the number and severity of hot flashes.”
Dr. Tate says the drug is particularly good for menopausal women who aren’t candidates for hormone therapy. “There has just not been very good options until recently for these patients,” he said, “these are menopausal women who have severe hot flashes or mood changes as they’re going through the process of menopause.”
As for Smith, her cancer is gone, and the symptoms that once severely bothered her are now cooling off. “It’s just part of life, and I’m just happy I’m alive and that I have something that can help me with the hot flashes,” she said.
Hot flashes most frequently occur at night, when estrogen levels are typically lowest and can lead to insomnia and other problems.