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Hot Flashes Fade with Behavioral Therapy, No Drugs

Hot flashes can ease with behavioral therapy

If you are bothered by hot flashes and are looking for a way to douse them without drugs, try behavioral therapy. According to a new British study, women who participated in behavioral therapy sessions experienced a significant reduction in hot flashes and night sweats.

A change in behavior can cool hot flashes

Is it possible a change in behavior can ease hot flashes? Researchers at King’s College London say it is so. They found that two-thirds of women who participated in six weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy experienced a “clinically significant” decline in problems associated with hot flashes and night sweats.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven itself to be an effective non-drug approach to treating a multitude of symptoms and conditions, including insomnia, digestive problems, eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, and relationship problems.

The focus of cognitive behavioral therapy is to help individuals change unhealthy behaviors and thinking patterns that contribute to their physical and emotional symptoms.

In the new study, 140 women who were experiencing hot flashes and night sweats at least 10 times a week for one month or longer were randomly assigned to participate in either behavioral therapy (group therapy sessions 4 times a month), self-help (one meeting, a phone call with a psychologist, and a book and CD), or no intervention.

Here are the results of the study:

  • After six weeks, 65% of women who participated in the group therapy said they had a meaningful decline in problems associated with hot flashes
  • During the same time period, 73% of women in the self-help group reported similar results
  • Only 21% of women in the control group reported any improvement
  • At six months, women in both the behavioral therapy group and the self-help group were still benefiting from treatment. However, one-third of women in the control group also improved.

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The impact of behavioral therapy on hot flashes and night sweats appeared to be on how the women perceived their symptoms.
According to senior researcher Myra Hunter, behavioral therapy “involves developing helpful, accepting approaches to hot flashes and also using breathing exercises to focus attention away from the flashes and negative thoughts.”

Other treatments for hot flashes
Reducing and eliminating hot flashes has proven to be a challenge for many women. Although hormone replacement therapy has been shown to effectively reduce hot flashes and night sweats, hormone use is also associated with significant concerns, including an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, breast cancer, and heart disease.

Women also can choose from selected antidepressants to cool their hot flashes. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and venlafaxine (Effexor) have demonstrated an ability to improve hot flashes and mood. However, these drugs are also associated with side effects, including but not limited to headache, dizziness, nausea, insomnia, and diarrhea.

Studies of natural treatments of hot flashes have yielded mixed and sometimes conflicting results.

  • A 2011 study involving acupuncture found that compared with sham acupuncture treatment, women who received traditional acupuncture experienced a significant decline in hot flashes and psychological symptoms.
  • A study from Mayo Clinic and North Central Cancer Treatment Group of the use of flaxseed for hot flashes did not yield such positive results. The researchers found no benefit regarding hot flashes among women who consumed flaxseed bars when compared with placebo.
  • A new (March 2012) review of black cohosh, St. John’s wort, chaste berry, vitamins, and minerals explored the ability of these agents, either individually or in combination, as treatment of menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, concentration, and sleep problems. The investigators found that black cohosh alone as well as St. John’s wort plus chaste berry were no better than placebo. However, a combination of black cohosh and St. John’s wort led to positive effects.

If you are a woman looking for an effective way to reduce hot flashes, the results of the King’s College London study offer you an alternative to hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, natural supplements, and acupuncture. Commenting on the study’s results, Hunter noted that with behavior therapy, “women say that they might still have hot flashes but not notice them, and then they feel more confident about coping with them.”

Ayers B, Smith M, Hellier J, Mann E, Hunter MS. Effectiveness of group and self-help cognitive behavior therapy in reducing problematic menopausal hot flushes and night sweats (MENOS 2): a randomized controlled trial. Menopause 2012. DOI:10.1097/gme.0b013e31823fe835
Laakmann E et al. Efficacy of Cimicifuga racemosa, Hypericum perforatum and Agnus castus in the treatment of climacteric complaints: a systematic review. Gynecol Endocrinol 2012 Mar 2

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