A new class of treatments for women going through the menopause is able to reduce numbers of debilitating hot flushes by as much as three quarters in a matter of days, a trial has found.
Scientists from Imperial College London have shown that as well as reducing the frequency of flushes, the treatment reduced flush severity and led to improvements in the women’s sleep and concentration.
Around 70 per cent of post-menopausal women experience menopausal flushing, roughly 10 million women in the UK, and ten per cent describe it as “intolerable”, according to researchers.
“It’s a bit like a really hot summer’s day, but it can set in at any time, so you’re sitting there sweating and having to change your clothes at work and if you’re getting flushes all night you don’t sleep – it can lead to depression,” study author Professor Waljit Dhillo, professor of endocrinology and metabolism told The Independent.
“For the women concerned it’s a really serious matter affecting their quality of life,” he added.
Currently the only option for women is a hormone replacement therapy (HRT) but this can have side effects, it can increase the risks of breast and ovarian cancers, as well as the risk of blood clots.
The drug used in the latest trial belongs to a group known as NKB antagonists (blockers), which were developed as a treatment for schizophrenia but have been “sitting on a shelf unused”, according to Professor Dhillo.
They are thought to work by blocking the action of a signal transmitting chemical in the brain called neurokinin B (NKB), a chemical which animal studies first linked to hot flushes.
The menopause is caused by falling levels of the reproductive hormone, oestrogen, and results in women no longer having regular periods or being able to conceive naturally.
Thirty-seven women enrolled on the trial were all aged between 40 and 62 – though early menopause can affect women in their twenties – and experiencing seven or more flushes a day.
“”We have proven this new mechanism can pretty much get rid of most of your flushes, this is the first time it’s been demonstrated,” Professor Dhillo said.
“If you imagine you’re having 84 flushes per week, that’s going to have a severe impact on your quality of life and ability to do things,” he added. “That’s a very severe group but this would benefit anybody with troublesome symptoms”.
As well as the reductions in severity and frequency of flushes the study, published in the journal Menopause, also reported an 82 per cent decrease in their flushes interrupting their sleep, and a 77 improvement in concentration.
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Further trials will be needed to refine the type of NKB agonists and test their safety in larger groups of women, as this trial group showed some minor changes in their liver health.
However the benefits could be even more widespread, and include symptoms like weight gain, fellow author Dr Julia Prague said, adding: “To see the lives of our participants change so dramatically and so quickly was so exciting, and suggests great promise for the future of this new type of treatment.”
Dr Heather Currie, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and British Menopause Society said that the findings were interesting and show these drugs “have the potential to significantly reduce” symptoms.
While the exact type of NKB antagonist used in this trial is not likely to become a treatment, she added it was good to hear new patient trials are underway with slightly different formulations which could become new drugs.
She added: “The RCOG welcomes further research into potential new treatments for menopause as it may increase choice for women, for some of whom traditional drugs, such as hormone replacement therapy, may not be recommended.”