MENOPAUSE
Stress-reduction therapy may increase women’s resilience to hot flashes

THE QUESTION The hot flashes and night sweats that often accompany menopause can cause considerable distress. Might a behavioral technique designed to help people cope with stress be of help?

THIS STUDY involved 110 women who had, on average, eight moderate to severe hot flashes and three episodes of night sweats daily. They were randomly assigned to take mindfulness-based stress-reduction classes or to be on a waiting list for the classes. Aimed at having participants recognize and control reactions to bodily sensations, the classes included training in meditation, mental body scanning and stretching exercises. The women participated in a 21 / 2-hour class weekly and were urged to practice with an instructional CD 45 minutes a day on their own. When the classes ended after nine weeks, there had been no significant reduction in the intensity of the participants’ hot flashes. However, women who had been trained in mindfulness techniques were 15 percent less bothered by their hot flashes, compared with a 7 percent drop among those on the waiting list. About three months later, mindfulness practitioners were 22 percent less bothered by hot flashes (vs. 10 percent). The mindfulness group also reported less stress, better sleep and an overall improvement in their quality of life.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Women who experience hot flashes and night sweats, among the most common and bothersome symptoms of menopause, which marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. The exact cause of hot flashes is not known, but it’s believed that hormonal changes associated with menopause disrupt the hypothalamus, the area at the base of the brain that acts as the body’s thermostat. An estimated three of every four women experience menopausal hot flashes.

CAVEATS Data on reactions to hot flashes came from notations made daily by the participants.

FIND THIS STUDY June issue of Menopause.

LEARN MORE ABOUT menopause at www.womenshealth.gov/menopause and www.menopause.org (click on “For Consumers”).

Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.