A new treatment for the hot flushes many women suffer during menopause is being hailed as a significant advance which could improve millions of lives.
During menopause, a woman’s ovaries produce less oestrogen and for three quarters of women this results in hot flushes which can have a serious impact on their quality of life.
Some women can experience up to 30 hot flushes in a 24-hour period, disrupting their sleep, relationships and work.
Now, scientists at Imperial College London say they have developed a new drug which works by blocking a brain signal that triggers the flushes.
Endocrinologist Dr Julia Prague told Britain’s Daily Mail that hot flushes are triggered by the release of a brain hormone called neurokinin B in response to dropping oestrogen levels.
The Imperial team found that rats given neurokinin B experienced the rodent equivalent of a hot flush but when they were given a drug to block its effect, the flushes stopped.
They then discovered a compound called AZD4901 which they believe could stop hot flushes.
Dr Prague added that of all symptoms of menopause, hot flushes tend to bother women the most.
“The impact on women’s lives can be huge but because the menopause is still a taboo subject, many are suffering in silence,” she said.
An option of some menopausal women is to undergo Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which artificially maintains oestrogen levels. But many women became cautious of taking this route following reports linking it to a raised risk of heart disease and breast and ovarian cancer.
Dr Prague said the new treatment could be “hugely significant” for women who couldn’t take HRT, or for those who continue to suffer hot flushes.
“If all goes well, we would be very hopeful it could be in routine clinical practice within five years,” she added.
She stressed the drug would not help with other menopausal symptoms such as mood swings.
The researchers now want to recruit at least 30 women for a four-month trial of the drug.
What are hot flushes?
Hot flushes are the most common symptom of menopause and typically last less than five minutes. They are characterised by a sudden feeling of heat which spreads through the body and can include sweating, palpitations and blushing. The NHS reports that hot flushes usually continue for several years after a woman’s last period, but they can carry on for many years – even into a woman’s 70s or 80s.
What triggers them?
Hot flushes can happen without warning throughout the day and night, but there are well-known triggers, including woolly jumpers, especially polo necks, feeling stressed, drinking coffee or alcohol and eating spicy foods.
How to ease overheating
Some remedies to help ease overheating include cutting out tea and coffee, keeping your room cool by using a fan, spraying your face with a cool water atomiser, wearing loose layers of light clothes, having layers of sheets on your bed instead of a duvet, sipping on cold or iced drinks and have lukewarm showers or baths instead of hot ones.