Common Seizure Medication May Put the Chill on Hot Flashes
August 31, 2000
A drug most often used to prevent seizures may significantly reduce the frequency of hot flashes, a University of Rochester Medical Center neurologist has found in a small pilot study. Several patients who have hot flashes reported benefits from the medication, gabapentin, and physicians have begun a larger study to confirm the findings.
Thomas Guttuso Jr., M.D., discussed the experiences of six patients in an article in a recent issue of the journal Neurology. The six had, on average, 87 percent fewer hot flashes while they took gabapentin.
The finding has its roots in a visit to Guttuso by a patient who sought treatment for her migraine headaches. Guttuso prescribed gabapentin (brand name Neurontin), which has been approved for the treatment of seizures but is also commonly used by doctors to prevent migraines and to treat other forms of pain, as well as certain anxiety disorders and bipolar disorder.
Three months later she returned to Guttuso for a follow-up appointment. While the drug hadn't prevented her migraines, the woman reported that the hot flashes she had suffered-usually 10 or 15 a day-had disappeared completely. When the medication was stopped, the hot flashes began immediately: She had 11 hot flashes the first day, and an additional six that night, keeping her from sleeping. She went back on the medication the next day.
The results were nearly as dramatic with the other patients, all of whom noticed a significant decrease in hot flashes in the first few days on the medicine. One woman who had suffered 40 hot flashes a day averaged five per day on the medicine; another went from 15 to one each day. The study included one man with prostate cancer who was having 10 hot flashes each night as a result of the side effects of hormone therapy. After starting on the medicine, he was able to sleep through the night with no such episodes.
"At first I thought maybe this was just a fluke," says Guttuso. "I rarely see patients with hot flashes. But when I realized that no one had really looked at using gabapentin for hot flashes, I thought I should study it. Every additional patient we put on this thought it was fantastic.
"Anecdotally, gabapentin has certainly been effective for patients who have tried it for hot flashes. But we need to investigate the idea more thoroughly before we know whether it really is warranted for large numbers of women. Patients should speak to their personal physicians about any possible treatment for hot flashes."
Guttuso is beginning a research study of 60 women to look at the issue more thoroughly. Some participants will be given gabapentin, and some will receive a placebo; neither patients nor doctors will know which patients actually receive the medication. The study will last 14 weeks.
Women currently experiencing hot flashes who are interested in participating in the research study should call (716) 275-8911. Women currently taking estrogen are not eligible.