Hot flashes are all too familiar for many women going through perimenopause and menopause. Until June 2013, those sudden feelings of warmth and blushing had few easily obtainable and uncomplicated non-hormonal remedies – other than an ice pack and a high-powered fan. Now, however, a new FDA-approved non-hormonal drug, known as paroxetine, has hit the market for treating hot flashes.
Hot Flashes: Symptoms
But first – do you know if your symptoms are actually hot flashes, or something else? Hot flash symptoms are sometimes confused with the symptoms of hyperthyroidism and even heart attack. Common symptoms of hot flashes include:
- Feeling of spreading warmth in the upper body and face
- Flushed, red, or blotchy skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Upper body perspiration
- Chilled feeling after the episode is over
Hot flashes can last anywhere from a couple minutes to a half hour. Depending on the woman, hot flashes may occur multiple times a day or just once every few days. In most women who experience hot flashes, episodes recur for at least a year.
These symptoms are very similar to hyperthyroidism symptoms. However, hyperthyroidism usually includes the following symptoms, in addition to those listed above:
- Sudden weight loss (despite increased appetite)
- Changes in bowel patterns
- Enlarged thyroid gland (swelling at base of the neck)
- Fine, brittle hair
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
Occasionally, patients write off symptoms of a mild heart attack as a hot flash. If you ever experience pain or pressure in the chest, shortness of breath, pain in one or both arms, the neck, back, jaw, or stomach, then you may be experiencing a heart attack. Call 911 immediately.
Hot Flashes: Treatments
There are many different treatment options for hot flashes, each with its own set of pros and cons. It’s important to keep in mind that hot flashes do not require treatment. If your hot flashes are few and far between – or if they don’t bother you that much – then you may wish to avoid medication, as the side effects could be more bothersome than the actual hot flashes. A few widely adapted treatment options include:
- Hormone Therapy. Oral dosages of estrogen and progesterone may be used to provide symptomatic relief. (Women who have had a hysterectomy do not need progesterone.) Estrogen can be effective for reducing symptoms, but is typically not recommended for women who are at risk for heart disease, breast cancer, or blood clotting.
- Antidepressants. Many women who cannot – or do not want to – use hormonal drugs find low-dose antidepressants to be effective in reducing hot flash symptoms. However, antidepressants could have undesirable side effects that outweigh their benefit, including nausea, weight gain, disinterest in sex, and dizziness.
- Gabapentin. This prescription medication is used to prevent seizures. However, some women have had success in reducing hot flashes with gabapentin. Side effects may include drowsiness, headaches, and dizziness.
- Clonidine. This hypertension medication, available in the form of a pill or patch, has been known to reduce hot flash symptoms in some women. Side effects include dizziness, dry mouth, constipation, and drowsiness.
Paroxetine: Non-Hormonal Treatment Option
Understandably, many women are reluctant to introduce additional hormones to their bodies, as the use of hormones can increase the risk for breast cancer and other diseases. Paroxetine offers an alternative. Paroxetine is a non-hormonal drug that has recently received FDA approval for treating hot flashes. Paroxetine’s original use was for treating major depression and various behavioral health disorders.
Paroxetine for hot flashes is a low-dose form of paroxetine mesylate. It is used to treat moderate to severe vasomotor menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats. The drug functions as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This means that the medication regulates the amount of serotonin in the brain, which is believed to help regulate the body’s temperature.
Though paroxetine and other antidepressants have been prescribed for hot flashes for many years, this new FDA-approved SSRI is specifically designed for treating hot flashes, which leads many physicians to believe that it could be a safer, more effective alterative. However, the drug is too new for studies to confirm it is safer or more effective than hormonal therapies.