Applied relaxation techniques can effectively manage vasomotor symptoms of menopause, primarily hot flashes, in healthy women, according to the results of a new study conducted in Sweden.1
Although it is unknown what triggers hot flashes or why they occur in some women and not others, it is known that when estrogen levels decrease, there is some affect in the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature among its functions. Estrogen supplementation can effectively reduce the occurrence of moderate to severe vasomotor symptoms, but concerns about increases in risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease that have been associated with estrogen use have made some women unwilling to take estrogen and some doctors hesitant to prescribe it. Overall, only about 10% of postmenopausal women with vasomotor symptoms take estrogen.2
The number of women who experience vasomotor symptoms has not decreased, however, and alternative treatments are needed. To test one such alternative form of treatment, a researcher devised an open, randomized controlled trial involving 60 healthy postmenopausal women to determine the effect of group therapy with applied relaxation on vasomotor symptoms. Thirty-three women were randomized to receive group therapy with applied relaxation, and 27 women were randomized to receive no treatment whatsoever. All study participants experienced 7 or more moderate to severe hot flashes every 24 hours.
The results found that in the treatment group, the number of hot flashes in a 24-hour period decreased by 5, from an average of 9.1 per day to 4.4. This significant effect was still present at the 3-month follow-up after the 12-week treatment session had ended. The average number of daily hot flashes also decreased in the control group—from 9.7 to 7.8—but the difference was insignificant.
Health-related quality of life also improved in the treatment group compared with the control group. Women in the treatment group reported improvements in vasomotor symptoms, sleep, memory, concentration, and anxiety after 12 weeks of treatment. Salivary cortisol concentrations were also lower in the treatment group, but the concentrations remained relatively stable in each group throughout the study period.
“The participants were given exercises to practice daily at home. The goal was for them to learn to use the method on their own and to be able to manage their own symptoms,” said study author Elizabeth Nestrand, who conducted the therapy sessions, which were based on patients learning to relax the muscle groups in the body aided by breathing techniques.
- Applied relaxation techniques can significantly reduce the daily number of moderate to severe hot flashes experienced by some postmenopausal women.