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Hot flashes are a health condition most often caused by fluctuating hormones due to menopause. Estrogen hormone therapy was traditionally prescribed to treat hot flashes, but the medication carried risks of breast cancer and heart disease. A study indicated, however, that the anticonvulsant medication gabapentin was better-suited for this type of treatment. Gabapentin for hot flashes does carry its own risks and side effects, though it is typically safer than estrogen in the long-term.
Menopause onset signals a sloping decline of estrogen levels in a woman's body. This hormonal change can cause the hypothalamus region of the brain to malfunction slightly, throwing off its ability to regulate body temperature. The resulting hot flashes create a warm, flushed feeling that can be accompanied by headache, dizziness, and weakness.
Pharmaceutical estrogen was the most common treatment for hot flashes. The hormone therapy increased the estrogen levels in the body, allowing for the loss to proceed at a slower rate. There was concern about this type of treatment due to the potentially serious side effects of the estrogen, with breast cancer and heart disease being among the conditions that can be caused by estrogen therapy.
A 2006 study from the University of Rochester found that the anticonvulsant medication gabapentin was as effective as estrogen in treatment of hot flashes. Women given estrogen and women dosed with gabapentin for hot flashes showed similar rates of improvement. This finding provided an alternative treatment for patients concerned about estrogen's side effects.
Gabapentin is typically used in the treatment of seizures, but researchers hypothesize that gabapentin for hot flashes works through a reduction of calcium in cells. This action helps to regulate body temperature at a cellular level. The lack of hormones in gabapentin means that the medication doesn't carry the risk of estrogen-fed conditions, such as certain forms of breast cancer.
Common side effects of gabapentin for hot flashes include headache, dizziness, and confusion, though dosage with a meal may minimize or eliminate these symptoms. It is recommended that a patient refrain from operating a motor vehicle until he or she knows how the medicine will effect him or her. Potential serious side effects include rash, swelling, and seizures, and a patient should contact her doctor if serious side effects arise, or if minor side effects continue for a lengthy period of time. It may be necessary for the doctor to adjust the dosage or cease treatment with gabapentin for hot flashes.
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