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01 November 2012
Menopause can be a challenging time for a woman. It is true, of course, that rather than an end it can be seen as a beginning and that it is another of life’s transitions. These philosophical truths though do not diminish the real physical discomfort that can accompany menopause for many women. One of the most discomforting of menopausal symptoms are hot flushes but new research has suggested that hypnosis could control them.
Hot flushes are the most common single symptom of menopause affecting about 80 per cent of women. The hot flush begins as a feeling of intense heat in the chest and neck which soon rushes up over the head and then over the rest of the body. It lasts a few minutes and might be associated with feelings of nausea, palpitations, dizziness and formication (a feeling as if insects are crawling on or under the skin). The person with the hot flush usually goes bright red and ends up with a drenching sweat, often followed by chills and shivering. The menopausal hot flush can be extremely unpleasant. The frequency varies considerably from one to two a day to the extreme of 10-20 an hour. During the flush, central body temperature does not rise, but skin temperature goes up by between five and seven degrees Celsius. Most women will have mild flushes for a couple of years, but in around 10-20 per cent of women flushes continue forever.
The hot flush is caused by a disruption to the temperature thermoregulatory system in a part of the brain called the anterior hypothalamus. This areas functions as a thermostat and causes flushes if the temperature goes too high and shivering if the temperature goes too low. Essentially this thermostat becomes dysfunctional during menopause leading to more easily triggered sweating and shivering.
There are things that you can do to ease hot flushes. The herb black cohosh can be effective for many women but not all. HRT can also be effective but there are well documented concerns with side effects of HRT. Given the seriousness of the condition, anything that can help is welcome and it seems that hypnosis might be of benefit.
This has been identified as a result of study in which menopausal women were either given hypnotherapy or “structured attention” sessions. Those in the hypnotherapy group were given five sessions a week involving recommendations of images of coolness, relaxation, or safe haven depending on what the woman wanted. Women in the structured attention control group had five sessions a week that involved talking about their symptoms, monitoring, measuring, and maintenance of a positive approach and outlook.
All of the women involved kept a journal to monitor how frequent and severe their hot flushes were. They also wore skin conductance monitors so that there would be an objective measure of hot flushes as well.
After 12 weeks the hypnosis group had 75 per cent fewer hot flushes compared to only 13 per cent fewer in the control group. The hypnosis group also self-reported an 80 per cent reduction in severity of the hot flushes while the control group only reported a 15 per cent decrease. The skin conductance monitors reported a 57 per cent reduction in rate of hot flushes for the hypnosis group compared to a 10 per cent reduction in the control group.
Hypnosis activates a part of the nervous system known as the “parasympathetic” branch which controls involuntary functions and it may be this which is providing benefit for hot flushes. Whatever the cause the figures are impressive and may be worth trying. “You are feeling cool, very, very cool…”