Hypnosis helps women suffering the hot flashes of menopause to chill, a new study finds. It's the latest mind-body technique -- including yoga, acupuncture and meditation-based therapies -- to be found effective in reducing menopause symptoms. (Corbis)
Women sweltering under a plague of hot flashes might consider an old strategy to reduce their misery, says new research: harnessing the power of suggestion. Clinical hypnosis that prompted women to chill in the face of hot flashes was highly effective, says a new study, driving down both the number and the severity of episodes that women suffered and improving sleep quality and the extent to which the episodes interfered with daily life.
The post-menopausal women in this trial suffered at least eight hot flashes a day -- as many as 50 a week. Although hormone replacement therapy has been found highly effective in reducing the physical symptoms that accompany midlife hormonal changes, its safety for all women is widely debated. The landmark Women’s Health Initiative study suggested that treatments that combine estrogen and progesterone might raise a woman's likelihood of dementia, stroke and breast cancer. Other medications used to treat hot flashes -- the blood-pressure medication clonidine, the antidepressant paroxetine and the anti-seizure medication gapapentin -- can have unacceptable side effects as well.
Hypnosis, by contrast, comes with no known risks. It is among the many non-drug treatments to which women turn for hot flash relief. In trials, the National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine (NCCAM) has found that yoga, acupuncture, qi gong and some meditation-based therapies can be effective in reducing menopausal symptoms. But black cohosh, an herbal supplement, has proved largely ineffective.
The latest research, published online in the journal Menopause, compared the effects of five 45-minute sessions of therapeutic hypnosis with those of a placebo treatment in which a therapist listened attentively to a subject's complaints for five sessions. For the 93 post-menopausal women who got the hypnosis treatment, the sessions included hypnotic induction, instructions for self-hypnosis and specific suggestions for mental imagery that would conjure the comforting sensations of coolness, relaxation and safe places.
On several measures, including a gauge of skin-conductance that detected a rise in body temperature, the subjects who got the hypnotherapy sessions experienced a marked improvement in their experience of menopausal symptoms. The frequency of hot flashes in the hypnotherapy group dropped by 48% at six weeks and 56% at 12 weeks, compared to drops of 7% and 13% at six and 12 weeks, respectively, among those in the trial's control condition. A measure of the severity and frequency of hot flashes showed an average 71% improvement in the hypnosis group at six weeks versus 8% in the control group -- and an 80% improvement at the 12-week mark among the women who got hypnosis versus 15% at 12 weeks.
Hypnotherapy also reduced hot flashes measured by electrodes that showed changes in skin conductance that would be seen with hot flashes. At six weeks, women in the hypnotherapy group had 41% fewer hot flashes than at the outset and 57% fewer hot flashes at 12 weeks, while those in the control group experienced a slight rise in hot flashes at six week and a 10% drop at 12 weeks.