Hypnotic relaxation therapy can help the sex lives of postmenopausal women who are experiencing moderate to severe hot flashes, according to a new study.
The findings demonstrate yet another benefit to hypnotic relaxation therapy, shown in other studies to reduce anxiety, relieve stress and help with insomnia. With hypnosis, a person is drawn into a deeply relaxed state, with the suspension of their critical faculties.
For the study, conducted by Baylor University researchers, 187 women were randomly assigned to receive either 5 weekly sessions of hypnotic relaxation therapy or supportive counseling, said lead researcher Aimee Johnson, a doctoral student in psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, in a press release.
Those in the hypnotic relaxation therapy group were hypnotized, and heard suggestions for relaxation, coolness and mental imagery. Those who received counseling talked about their symptoms with a therapist but did not receive hypnosis.
The women were asked to complete questionnaires at the start of the study, at the end of treatment and at a 12-week follow-up. They were asked about everything from their hot flashes to their ability to experience sexual intimacy.
“The most common complaints are being too tired, anxiety, depression, hot flashes and the fear of close contact,” said Dr. Gary Elkins, director of Baylor's Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory, in a press release. Because warmth that comes from closeness can trigger a hot flash, some women begin to fear intimacy, he said.
Elkins noted that, as a result of the study, women might have an alternative to hormone replacement therapy, which has a risk of cancer and heart disease.
At the end of treatment, women who had received hypnotic relaxation therapy reported significantly greater sexual satisfaction and pleasure, as well as less discomfort. This improvement also was evident at the 12-week follow-up assessment.
“Women’s sexual health improved, whether because of sleeping better, less stress or fewer hot flashes, or perhaps other unknown mechanisms,” Elkins said.
Researchers noted that many factors besides hot flashes can impact postmenopausal sexual health including fatigue, self-esteem and a lack of interest.
For many women -- such as those who have had breast cancer -- hormone replacement therapy is not an option for menopause-related symptoms. Estrogen, for example, has been associated with more rapid growth of breast cancer.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
A previous study, also by Baylor University, found that hypnotic relaxation therapy can reduce hot flashes by 80 percent.
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