By Dr. Mallika Marshall, WBZ-TVBy Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) — Seventy percent of menopausal women experience hot flashes and night sweats, and for years, estrogen has been the gold standard for treatment. A new study now shows another medication is essentially just as effective.

Dr. Hadine Joffe, a menopause expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and others looked at over 339 women experiencing menopausal symptoms bad enough to interfere with their daily lives.

They found that low-dose venlafaxine, also known as Effexor and often used to treat depression and anxiety, performed almost as well as low-dose estrogen in controlling the severity and frequency of hot flashes and night sweats.

“Although there was a slight advantage for estrogen, ” Dr. Joffe says, “It was very small and may not be clinically meaningful to someone. So the magnitude of the effect appears to be about in the same range for these two treatments. A hormonal approach and a non-hormonal approach.”

Estrogen therapy has come under fire for possibly raising the risk of heart disease and breast cancer in women, but Dr. Joffe says for some, it’s still a reasonable option, especially if used in the short-term.

“We’re always advising people if they’re going to be using estrogen, the lower dose and shorter duration to minimize those risks,” she says.

Now we know venlafaxine is another great option, and although neither estrogen nor venlafaxine completely eliminated all symptoms, they each made life a lot more comfortable for the study participants.

“I always tell people that we take mountain ranges and make mole hills.,” Dr. Joffe adds. “And that really translates into a huge improvement in quality of life for women out there.”

So what about non-pharmacologic treatments like soy, omega-3 fatty acids, and even exercise? Dr. Joffe says they don’t really work for significant hot flashes and night sweats. For people with mild symptoms, she says, perhaps they can help a little.

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Dr. Mallika Marshall


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