News Brief

Peri-menopausal and postmenopausal women who took the antidepressant medication escitalopram – brand name Lexapro® – experienced a reduction in the frequency and severity of hot flashes as compared to women who received placebo according to a new study led by the Perelman School of Medicine. The study was published in the January 19th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Our findings suggest that among healthy women who were not depressed or anxious, a 10 to 20 milligram dose of escitalopram – which is well below the dosage level for psychiatric use – provides a nonhormonal, off-label option that is effective and well-tolerated in the management of menopausal hot flashes,” said Ellen W. Freeman, PhD, Penn research professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and principal investigator of the national, multi-site study.

At the end of the study after eight weeks, participants showed a significant decrease in hot flash frequency and intensity in the escitalopram group compared to the placebo group – 55 percent vs. 36 percent. The three-week study participant follow-up also showed that hot flashes increased after cessation of escitalopram but not after cessation of placebo, further proving the drug’s effectiveness. Dr. Freeman and her colleagues note that while the reduction in hot flash frequency and severity seem modest, the study participants perceived these improvements as “meaningful,” greatly improving their quality of life and reinforcing their desire to continue the treatment.

Hormone replacement therapy has been the predominant treatment for menopausal hot flashes. Its use has greatly decreased, however, since the Women’s Health Initiative Estrogen plus Progestin randomized controlled trial identified health risks – primarily the increase in risk of heart disease. Despite this, no other treatments for menopausal hot flashes have FDA approval. And while selective serotonin and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs) have been investigated to treat hot flashes, the previous studies were pilot investigations, conducted only on small samples and in unblinded trials.

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Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.

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