Women with severe hot flashes said their quality of life improved after taking mindfulness classes that included meditation and stretching exercises, according to a new study.
"There's a broad range of attitudes about hot flashes and how they should be treated," Dr Ellen Freeman, a menopause expert at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, said.
"There are certainly many, many women who don't want to take hormones ... and don't want to take other drugs either," said Dr Freeman, who was not involved in the current study. Mindfulness, on the other hand, "may be something that they find very acceptable."
Women with frequent and severe hot flashes often also complain about anxiety and stress related to their symptoms, as well as trouble sleeping.
Researchers based at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester wanted to see if a teaching such women mindfulness, which has been shown to relieve stress, might help.
They enrolled 110 women, nearly all of them white, with at least five bothersome hot flashes each day.
The women were randomly assigned to two groups. In one, participants went to weekly 2.5-hour mindfulness classes focusing on body awareness, meditation, and stretching. They also received CDs to guide them through mindfulness activities on their own on the days when they didn't have classes.
Women in the second group were put on a waiting list and had no mindfulness classes during the study, which lasted eight weeks.
At first, women in the study had a mean of about eight hot flashes a day and three night sweats each night. They were somewhere between "moderately" and "extremely" bothered by their symptoms, according to questionnaire responses.
They also reported trouble sleeping and had anxiety and stress scores considered above the normal range for healthy people.
By the time they finished the mindfulness programme, the women were less stressed and anxious and were no longer considered out of the normal range for those symptoms.
They also slept better, rated their quality of life higher, and were less bothered by their hot flashes –In improvement that was still clear three months after the classes ended. At that point, the women were "slightly" to "moderately" bothered by their hot flashes.
The women on the waitlist also got a little better, but they didn't see as much improvement as those taking mindfulness classes.
Women in both groups had similar improvements in the intensity and frequency of their hot flashes, according to a report published online in Menopause.
That suggests that these classes may be most useful for helping women cope with their hot flashes, rather than curing them, the authors said.
Both Dr Freeman and the study's lead author, Dr James Carmody, acknowledged that spending hours in relaxation classes may be less feasible than popping a hormone pill every day.
The drawback to this kind of program, Dr Carmody said, is that it "requires a time investment that for many women is not possible."
However, this kind of mindfulness programme is widely available, and may be covered by insurance for some women, he said. He and his colleagues are currently testing the effects of a similar programme in four-week form.
"We want to see if a shorter program would have the same effects," Dr Carmody said. - (Reuters Health, Genevra Pittman, March 2011)