CHICAGO - Some women with low sex drive gained help from an antidepressant even though they weren't depressed, a study found.
By the end of eight weeks, 15 of 51 participants had responded to the drug, bupropion, with their condition rated as much improved.
The preliminary study was led by Dr. R. Taylor Segraves of the Case Western University School of Medicine in Cleveland. Segraves was scheduled to present the results Thursday at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
The work was financed by Glaxo Wellcome Inc., which markets the drug as Wellbutrin SR.
The women in the study had been diagnosed with ''hypoactive sexual desire disorder.'' It is marked by deficient or no sexual fantasies and desire for sex, causing the person distress. There are no exact figures on how common it is, but surveys find at least 20 percent of women complain of a persistent lack of sexual desire. It is more common in women.
It has a variety of causes, including early sex abuse, a troubled marriage and hormonal problems. Doctors use a variety of therapies, including psychotherapy and testosterone injections.
But they need more options, said Raymond Rosen, director of the sexual pharmacology research unit at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J. He called the new study a significant advance.
Bupropion boosts the brain's production of dopamine, a chemical messenger linked to sexual desire, Segraves said.
Study participants, whose average age was 41, started to get the drug after four weeks on a placebo. During that placebo phase, none improved. But the women began responding as early as two weeks after going on the antidepressant.
Women's interest in sex increased from an average of about one episode per two weeks at the end of the placebo phase to 2.3 episodes per two weeks by the end of their eight weeks on bupropion. The average number of episodes of sexual arousal per two weeks rose from 1.3 to 2.4, and of sexual fantasy from 0.7 to 1.8.
Five women stopped taking the drug because they developed a rash or hives.