Prozac may end misery each month for women

A low daily dose of Prozac could end pre-menstrual misery for millions of women and their families, research suggests.

Tests on rats have shown that the antidepressant drug acts on the brain to block symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).

Scientists believe it could make a big difference to the 50 per cent of women who are tormented by PMS each month a week or so before the start of their period.

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Symptoms include anxiety, mood swings, tiredness, irritability, depression and loss of confidence. There may also be physical effects such as headaches, feeling bloated and breast tenderness.

The new study shows that Prozac – the drug fluoxetine – interferes with the way falling levels of the sex hormone progesterone affect emotion circuits in the brain.

Since the drug is already safety tested and commonly prescribed, it could be made widely available as a PMS treatment in as little as two years, say researchers.

Scientist Dr Thelma Lovick, from the University of Birmingham, who led the research, said : "Pre-menstrual syndrome doesn't need any introduction. Everyone's heard of it, and about 50 per cent of women experience it, and a lot of men are at the receiving end of it. Yet we still haven't sorted it out."

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Dr Lovick said the scientists were "amazed" to find Prozac completely erased PMS symptoms in rats. She thought the effects might not be so dramatic in humans, but would still be significant.

Whereas 10 or 20 milligrams of Prozac is commonly prescribed for depression, it is believed a daily dose of just two milligrams could be enough to control PMS.

At such low doses, the drug would not have the side effects often experienced by depressed patients.

Women could take it as soon as their symptoms began, said Dr Lovick – and she suggested they could safely treat themselves.