I put a spell on you: hot flashes and hypnosis

Posted by on Nov 5, 2012 in hot flash, mind-body therapy | 0 comments

I have written about the potential of hypnosis for ameliorating troublesome vasomotor symptoms previously, although earlier studies have focused on hot flashes in relation to breast cancer therapy. You can find those posts, and links to earlier reports, here.

Personally? I like hypnosis.

I was hypnotized several decades back by a source for another story that I was writing and recall how relaxing it felt. This particular clinician focused on teaching patients the art of self hypnosis for use in speeding recovery from surgery and the like. But I digress..

Hypnosis for menopausal symptoms? Why not?!

In a study that appears online in the Menopause journal, Dr. Gary Elkins from Baylor’s Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory explores the potential of clinical hypnosis — described as a “mind-body therapy to facilitate a hypnotic state, coolness and control of symptoms” — in a field where the effectiveness of alternative strategies continues to be challenged by mainstream medicine.

He write that while menopausal symptoms like hot flashes generally start to decline 5 to 7 years after menopause, they may persist in some women for up to a whopping 20 years!!!! Moreover, non-hormonal pharmacological options, e.g. antidepressants and anticonvulsants may seem promising but between side effects and the need to comply strictly to dosing regimens, they may not be a viable or reasonable option for many. Additionally, in the early studies conducted in breast cancer survivors, clinical hypnosis led to as much as a 69% reduction in hot flashes over the course of these trials,findings that are comparable if not better than those seen in women taking Effexor or Paxil.

This time, 187 women who reported having at least 50 hot flashes a week (or seven a day) participated in clinical hypnosis or a training called ‘structured attention control’ five times a week for three months. Women who were hypnotized  were given specific suggestions for mental imagery for coolness, safe places and relaxation with the goals of reducing hot flashes and improving sleep. Each session lasted 45 minutes and were recorded, so that the women could practice self-hypnosis at home. In the structured attention session, also 45 minutes long, each woman and a clinician discussed symptoms, exchanged personal information, received guidance on how to avoid negative suggestions and were encouraged. While these sessions not recorded, the women brought home a CD that provided information about hot flashes and were required to listen to it daily.

The findings are pretty impressive. Elkin reports that over the first 6 weeks, women receiving hypnosis had a mean decrease in their hot flashes of almost 64% compared to only 9% in women who had structured attention training. These reductions continued towards the end of the study, leading to a 74% decline in hot flashes compared to the beginning of the study (during the same timeframe, women in the second group only experienced overall reductions of 17%). The severity of hot flashes also significantly  declined over the course of the study by as much as 80% among hypnotized women (and only 15% among the structured attention group). What’s more, when hot flashes were actually monitored by a scientific instrument (rather than self-reports) findings were still impressive, with almost a 57% reduction in hot flashes in the hypnosis group and only a 10% reduction in the structured attention group. These women also reported better sleep quality and that their hot flashes interfered less in their daily activities than previously.

Research into pharmacological therapies and alternative therapies confirm that there is always a placebo effect at play. With regard to hot flashes in particular, this placebo effect is evidently substantial. And, with regards to mind-body therapies in particular, some women are negatively predisposed to achieving results, and either are not willing to make the commitment that is necessary for them to work. However, this is not much different than any regimen; if you are not committed to the process, you probably won’t see the best results.

Elkin writes that they still don’t know why hypnosis might work for hot flashes, although it might have something to do with improvements in heart rate and blood pressure (via a process known as ‘parasympathetic tone’). However, if it works, do we really need to know how?

Got severe hot flashes? You might want to delve into that spell before you try drug therapy. If anything, you’ll come out feeling a heck of a lot more relaxed!




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