Almost two-thirds of postmenopausal women experience hot flushes; 10–20% of these find it very distressing . Symptoms may last for up to 5 years after natural menopause, and, in at least 20% of women, flushes may persist for up to 15 years. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most efficacious treatment. However, alternatives are needed for women who have a contraindication against HRT or desire a non-hormonal treatment for personal reasons. One of these alternative complementary methods becoming increasingly popular is acupuncture.
Until now, no large, solid, randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) have shown that acupuncture is efficient in Western women suffering from menopausal hot flushes. Therefore, the recent RCT published by a Norwegian group  merits our interest. It shows an overall reduction in hot flush frequency of 48% among women who received acupuncture, compared with a 28% reduction in the control group. This multicenter, pragmatic RCT with two parallel arms was intended to compare the effectiveness of individualized acupuncture plus self-care vs. self-care alone on hot flushes and health-related quality of life in postmenopausal women. The primary endpoint was a change in mean hot flush frequency from baseline to 12 weeks. The secondary endpoint was a change in health-related quality of life measured by the Women’s Health Questionnaire. Exclusion criteria were surgical menopause, history of cancer within the past 5 years (including use of tamoxifen), an uncontrolled chronic disease and drug or alcohol dependency. Use of systemic HRT and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors/serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors required a washout period of 8 weeks and use of local prescription estrogens for 4 weeks.
A total of 267 women were randomized to the study and 248 were analyzed. Women randomized to receive acupuncture were referred to a local study acupuncturist. Before the treatment started, the acupuncturists met and discussed the expected traditional Chinese medicine diagnoses and the recommended acupuncture point selection. They were free to diagnose and to individualize the acupuncture treatment for each participant. Moxibustion (heated needles) could be added if indicated, but no other treatments, for example herbs, were given. De Qi (a characteristic dull and numb sensation) was obtained if possible, and needle manipulation with even, reducing, or reinforcing methods was used.
The acupuncture group of women received ten acupuncture treatment sessions and advice on self-care. Point location was not standardized in the study but was left to the acupuncturists to decide. The participants in the control group were not prescribed any medical treatment for menopausal symptoms within the study. They were free to use any over-the-counter medication and self-provided non-pharmaceutical interventions, guided by the self-care information leaflet given to them after randomization.
The results showed a significant decrease of hot flush frequency by 5.8 per 24 h in the acupuncture group (n = 134) and 3.7 per 24 h in the control group (n = 133), a difference of 2.1 (p < 0.001). Hot flush intensity decreased by 3.2 units in the acupuncture group and 1.8 units in the control group, a difference of 1.4 (p < 0.001). The acupuncture group experienced statistically significant improvements in the vasomotor, sleep and somatic symptom dimensions of the Women’s Health Questionnaire compared with the control group. The overall reduction in hot flush frequency was 48% among women who received acupuncture, compared with a 28% reduction in the control group. Nineteen women (7%) dropped out (16 in the control group and three in the acupuncture group). No participants withdrew because of adverse effects.
These results suggest that a policy of use of acupuncture plus self-care can reduce hot flush frequency by 50% or more in half of the postmenopausal women experiencing frequent hot flushes. The authors conclude that acupuncture plus self-care can contribute to a clinically relevant reduction in hot flushes and increased health-related quality of life in postmenopausal women .
Professor Emeritus, Division of Gynecological Endocrinology and Reproductive Medicine, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Berne, Switzerland
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