Hot flushes are a characteristic symptom, together with night sweats, of the changing hormone levels in the body associated with menopause in older women. Young women and men can also experience hot flushes, which are also usually related to hormonal changes or imbalances.
Roughly 75% of women going through menopause can experience hot flushes, so they can have a significant impact on women’s quality of life. Flushes tend to be experienced as an increasing sense of heat, reddening of skin, sweating, possible heart palpitations and a sense of anxiety. For some people the flushes only last a few minutes, while for others they can last for longer period and recur regularly throughout the day.
Men and women receiving treatment for cancer can be susceptible to hot flushes as the treatment may lower sex hormone production in their bodies. For example, 70% of women who have had breast cancer treatment get hot flushes, and a similar proportion of men receiving treatment for prostate cancer can get them too.
There are a number of simple things that people can do on their own to reduce the intensity and frequency of hot flushes and to help people cope with them:
- Reduce coffee and tea consumption
- Reduce alcohol and tobacco intake
- Eat healthy and regular meals
- Stay hydrated – drink lots of water
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce your stress levels
There are also a range of drugs which may help reduce hot flushes, but may also create unpleasant side-effects.
There is increasing evidence that acupuncture can be used to reduce the frequency and severity of hot flushes. Cancer Research UK even offers more information about a number of research trials which provide evidence in support of acupuncture.
A Cochrane Review (the gold standard for reviewing the evidence available on a particular issue) on acupuncture for menopausal hot flushes, published in January 2013, concluded that although the evidence was of low or very low quality, in four studies, “Traditional acupuncture was significantly more effective in reducing hot flush frequency from baseline and was also significantly more effective in reducing hot flush severity”.
As with much research on acupuncture, more high quality and larger scale studies which include a sham or placebo acupuncture group are needed before wider adoption of acupuncture as a treatment for hot flushes can take place.
What is clear is that acupuncture may be able to help relieve the severity and frequency of hot flushes. Although the precise mechanisms by which acupuncture works are not known, The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) lists the ways in which acupuncture may be able to help with hot flushes by:
- Regulating serum estradiol, follicle stimulating hormone and luteotrophic hormone
- Increasing relaxation and reducing tension
- Stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord
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Dodin, S., Blanchet, C., Marc, I., Ernst, E., Wu, T., Vaillancourt, C., Paquette, J. and Maunsell, E., 2013. Acupuncture for menopausal hot flushes. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 7, p.CD007410.