Clinical hypnosis can effectively reduce hot flashes and associated symptoms among postmenopausal women, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Baylor University's Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory.
Hypnotic relaxation therapy reduced hot flashes by as much as 80 percent, and the findings also showed participants experienced improved quality of life and a lessening of anxiety and depression.
The mind-body therapy study of 187 women over a five-week period measured both physical symptoms of hot flashes and women's self-reporting of flashes. The women received weekly sessions of hypnosis by clinically trained therapists, and they also practiced self-hypnosis using audio recordings and such visualizations as a snowy path or a cool mountain creek, according to the study, published online in Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society and funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health.
"This is the first study in which we compared both self-reporting and physiological monitoring -- not just a change in tolerance or ability to cope, but the hot flashes themselves decreased," said Gary Elkins, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences and director of the Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory.
By the fourth session, hot flashes had decreased about 70 percent, and at a three-month follow-up, the decrease averaged 80 percent, he said. "Some women reported having nearly complete elimination of hot flashes."
To be clinically significant, the decrease must be 50 percent or more, he said. Besides decreasing in frequency, the hot flashes also became milder.
"For women who want to be involved in their own therapy, this is very appealing," Elkins said. "It also has the advantages of cost savings and few or no side effects. Over the long term, the intervention has the potential to reduce health care costs and provide a safe and effective choice for women during menopause."
Other treatment options are hormones -- estrogen or progestin --which are most effective with a range of 90 to 100 percent reduction in hot flashes, but associated with increased risk of breast cancer or heart disease; antidepressants, with a decrease in the range of 45 to 60 percent but with possible side effects such as dry mouth and decreased interest in sex; and herbal remedies, generally found to be of little more benefit than a placebo, Elkins said.
During the study, women wore skin monitors with electrodes. They pushed a response button when they experienced a flash, and the monitor also recorded physiological changes such as temperature.
"This is one of the largest studies for menopausal intervention that has been done, and certainly for mind-body intervention," Elkins said.
"Our next steps are to determine if the intervention can be provided by audio and video recordings as well as the long-term cost benefits," he said. "If it can be provided by audio recording, we could achieve a wide usage and potentially help millions of women. Studies also need to be done to see whether this could benefit the immune system and ward off disease."
Research findings mirrored results of an earlier Baylor study using hypnosis to reduce hot flashes in breast cancer survivors.
Other researchers involved in the study were William Fisher and Aimee Johnson, both doctoral candidates of psychology at Baylor; Janet Carpenter, Ph.D., R.N., a professor in the department of nursing of the University of Indiana; and Timothy Keith, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.