A cheap drug used to fight Covid could also help millions of women who suffer from heavy periods, a study has suggested.
Dexamethasone — the steroid used to treat President Donald Trump during his bout of coronavirus last year — has been proven to save the lives of patients hospitalised with coronavirus.
And research by the University of Edinburgh shows the drug — which costs only £5 per patient — can be used to treat women who have menorrhagia.
Prolonged bleeding during menstruation affects up to one in five women, statistics suggest. It can cause anaemia, fatigue and pain, as well as force sufferers to stay in their homes out of fears of social embarrassment.
If approved for use, the drug would be the first new option to treat the condition in 20 years.
Currently women with heavy periods can be prescribed intrauterine systems, which are small plastic devises that release hormones in the womb cavity.
But they have been criticised for being painful when they are put in and for causing mood swings, skin problems or breast tenderness.
Dexamethasone — used since the 1960s to treat conditions such as lupus — would provide a non-invasive treatment.
The Scottish researchers found the drug, taken as a pill, can reduce blood flow by nearly 20 per cent when taken during periods.
Dexamethasone — the steroid used to treat President Donald Trump during his bout of coronavirus last year — could help hundreds of thousands of women who suffer from heavy periods, a study by the University of Edinburgh has suggested
Menorrhagia affects one in five women and can cause anaemia, fatigue and pain, as well as forcing people to leaving their homes out of fears of social embarrassment
WHAT IS DEXAMETHASONE?
Oxford University researchers last June announced steroid drug dexamethasone — which costs just over £5 for a course of treatment — cut the risk of death by up to 35 per cent for infected patients on ventilators and by a fifth for anyone needing oxygen at any point.
Following the news World Health Organization (WHO) bosses said they will update its Covid-19 treatment guidance to include dexamethasone.
The WHO wrote: ‘It was tested in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom’s national clinical trial RECOVERY and was found to have benefits for critically ill patients.
‘According to preliminary findings shared with WHO (and now available as a preprint), for patients on ventilators, the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth.’
It did not appear to help less ill patients.
Researchers estimated that the drug would prevent one death for every eight patients treated while on breathing machines and one for every 25 patients on extra oxygen alone.
The steroid drug is a type of anti-inflammatory medicine used to treat a wide-range of conditions.
It is given via an injection or once-a-day tablet and is sold under the brand names Ozurdex and Baycadron.
In coronavirus patients, the steroid reduces inflammation in the lungs triggered by an overreaction by the immune system.
One in 10 symptomatic Covid patients are thought to suffer from the nasty symptom, known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
ARDS causes the immune system to become overactive and attack healthy cells in the lungs.
This makes breathing difficult and the body eventually struggles to get enough oxygen to vital organs.
Dexamethasone was first made in 1957 and was approved for medical use in 1961.
The steroid is also used to treat conditions that cause inflammation, conditions related to immune system activity, and hormone deficiency.
Dexamethasone can cause mild to moderate side effects, including vomiting, heartburn, anxiety, high blood pressure, muscle weakness and insomnia.
The study, published in the journal EBioMedicine, examined the use of the anti-inflammatory drug among 107 women from across the UK.
All volunteers were aged between 21 and 54 years old, and had experienced heavy menstrual bleeding.
Women who were given a 0.9mg dose of dexamethasone twice daily for five days showed an average reduction in menstrual blood loss volume of 19 per cent.
The researchers said the findings mean dexamethasone could be a future treatment option for women whose heavy menstrual bleeding harms their quality of life or health.
Study author Professor Hilary Critchley said: ‘Menstruation and heavy menstrual bleeding are still taboo topics and the debilitating impact of the latter is under-reported by patients.
‘Our findings open the way for further study of dexamethasone as a possible safe and effective therapy.’
Fellow researcher Dr Pamela Warner said: ‘This trial evolved from groundbreaking laboratory research and years of multi-disciplinary collaboration between clinicians and methodologists, combined with specialist expertise in new efficient and ethical approaches to trial design.
‘It has been an exciting and gratifying journey.’
The drug’s potential use for heavy periods comes amid calls to increase the amount it is prescribed by doctors to treat Covid patients at home.
MPs on Saturday called on the health service to look into more at-home use of the drug to further cut cases of serious illness from Covid.
The steroid, which reduces the amount of damage in the lungs, is used as standard practice in hospital, reducing patients’ need for ventilators.
A study by NHS England earlier this year estimated that the steroid has saved at least 22,000 lives in the UK and a million globally.
It has been hailed as proof that combined with vaccines, improved treatment means the virus no longer poses the same threat.
One GP prescribing it for at-home use told the Mail On Sunday: ‘This is saving lives. It works – and it makes sense to give it to more people to stop them from being seriously ill.’
Conservative MP Neil O’Brien said: ‘It’s a huge triumph – one of the real bright spots of the past year.’
He added the treatment breakthrough is ‘one of the great British contributions to the work on the pandemic’.
Mr O’Brien said: ‘It is fantastic to find something that is cheap and works.’
The use of dexamethasone for patients who require oxygen is now standard care in NHS hospitals.
NHS England said dexamethasone is ‘not routinely’ prescribed for Covid patients at home, in line with current guidance.