BOSTON (Reuters) - A drug that prevents premature ovulation during fertility treatments helped reduce the number of hot flashes by up to 80 percent in a small study of women entering menopause, researchers reported on Wednesday.
They said the drug Cetrotide, made by Merck Serono, a subsidiary of the German company Merck, blocked the action of a key brain hormone involved in hot flashes.
Just three women were tested, and more studies are needed, but the findings offer a potential new way to deal with hot flashes or flushes, which can raise a woman’s body temperature by as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes.
Hot flashes, which redden the face and interrupt sleep, can occur as often as twice an hour and are debilitating in one in six older women. Hormone treatments relieve them, but carry a risk of cancer, stroke or other problems.
A team led by Dr. Hans de Boer of Rijnstate Hospital in Arnhem, the Netherlands, used injections of Cetrotide, known generically as cetrorelix, to block the receptor of the brain hormone LHRH, which stands for luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone.
His findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“These preliminary findings are very promising and could be a breakthrough in the search for an effective and safe treatment for severe flushes,” De Boer said in a telephone interview.
He said a larger test with a placebo and involving 60 women was expected to start in a few months.
In a 65-year-old woman, daily injections of cetrorelix cut the number of hot flashes from about eight per day down to two or fewer, and its effects lasted for six weeks after the drug was discontinued.
When it was resumed, the number of hot flashes plummeted again.
A second woman, aged 49, dropped from more than 20 episodes a day to about 12, and down to five when the dose was doubled to twice a day.
“She had breast cancer and suffered terribly. She couldn’t sleep any more because of the hot flashes. All her hot flashes completely disappeared during the night, and during the day there was an 80 percent reduction,” de Boer said in the interview.
The treatment initially failed in a 59-year-old overweight woman, but her episodes decreased by 80 percent within five days after her dose was doubled.
The researchers said the effectiveness of the drug was close to what doctors would expect from estrogen-replacement therapy and markedly exceeded the 25 to 30 percent decreases observed with placebo.
Editing by Alison Williams