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Relaxation Therapy Minimizes Hot Flashes

With an estimated 85% of women experiencing hot flashes as they approach menopause, finding effective non-medication treatment is vitally important. A new Baylor University study shows hypnotic relaxation therapy can decrease the frequency and severity of hot flashes in menopausal women. Interference from hot flashes, like loss of sleep and social interaction difficulties, also significantly decreased in the majority of women who received hypnosis.

The research was published online this week in The Journal of Clinical Oncology. “This study validates that this type of treatment is effective in decreasing hot flashes,” said Gary Elkins, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor and a lead investigator on the project. “There is a real need to study emerging mind-body interactions to treating these ailments because many times medications are not an option.”

In the study, 26 women who are breast cancer survivors received hypnotic relaxation therapy and were compared to 25 other breast cancer survivors who did not receive treatment. The women who received hypnosis reported a 68% decrease in hot flashes. Anxiety, depression and insomnia also decreased.

Breast cancer survivors were chosen because the medications that are given to these women to help prevent the reoccurrence of breast cancer often times cause them to go into menopause in a matter of days. Furthermore, hormone replacement therapy is not an option because of an increased risk of breast cancer recurrence associated with hormone therapy, thus creating a need for alternative mind-body treatments.

Based on the results of this study, Elkins has received a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a much broader study that will significantly increase the scope and number of patients participating. The grant is the largest ever awarded by NIH for this type of research.

The new study will enlist 180 postmenopausal women who entered menopause naturally and are experiencing hot flashes. Half of the patients will receive hypnotic treatment while the other half will receive another mind-body intervention. Those who receive hypnotic relaxation therapy will get five 45-minute therapy sessions and will also learn self-hypnosis techniques. The study will measure whether the frequency and severity of hot flashes decrease and whether there is an actual physiological response to the therapy. Researchers also will look at other physiologic markers, like stress hormone levels, to see if they decrease.

“It will be a large, randomized, clinical trial that will further evaluate the effectiveness and help us understand how it is working,” Elkins said. “We will also know who this treatment works best for.” The study will take about five years to complete.

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