Hot flashes are practically synonymous with menopause, and any woman who has experienced them knows what a bother they are. The hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause can range from slightly irritating to downright debilitating, and relief is often hard to come by. New research may change that, as British scientists have reported that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help women find relief from hot flashes.
Menopause is a normal change in a woman’s life that occurs when she has her last period. As hormones shift, women may experience a variety of symptoms, including hot flashes, which can cause a feeling of intense heat, heavy sweating, rapid heartbeat, and flushing. Hot flashes may last from two to 30 minutes and can interfere with sleep.
Researchers at King’s College in London conducted a study that included 140 women who had been suffering from hot flashes and night sweats at least 10 times per week for a month or more. The women were randomly assigned to one of three groups: group-based CBT, a self-help program of CBT, or no treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach aimed at addressing the underlying emotional, thinking, and behavior patterns that can feed mental or physical symptoms. The approach involves a variety of techniques, including individual therapy, group therapy, imagery, and more.
In this study, the group-based CBT included four group sessions per month, whereas the self-help CBT involved one meeting with a psychologist plus the use of a CD and book. The therapy was designed to help women develop useful, accepting approaches to hot flashes, including breathing exercises to divert attention away from the hot flashes and negative thoughts.
After six weeks, 65 percent of women in the group-based CBT and 73 percent in the self-help group reported a meaningful drop in hot flash symptoms, compared to just 21 percent of women who received no treatment. What’s more—the benefit was still noticeable six months later.
Researchers concluded that CBT delivered in a group or self-help format is an effective treatment strategy for hot flashes and night sweats. They noted that the benefit seemed to come from changes in how women perceived their symptoms—while women may have still experienced hot flashes, they were better equipped to cope with them.
Ayers BD, Smith MD, Hellier J, et al. 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. Published early online: February 14, 2012. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e31823fe835