August 27, 2015

After breast cancer, acupuncture is effective at treating hot flushes

Acupuncture versus Gabapentin for Hot Flushes/Flashes Among Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial results.

Published in the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2015

Acupuncture appears to be more efficacious than oral medication (Gabapentin) for the treatment of hot flashes/flushes in breast cancer survivors. According to a new trial that compared Acupuncture, Placebo Acupuncture, Gabapentin, and a Placebo Pill.

The University of Pennsylvania’s associate professor of family medicine Jun James Mao, MD, Philadelphia, and colleagues tested the treatments in 120 women who were breast cancer survivors. The women were experiencing hot flushes/flashes at least twice a day.

The 120 women were randomly placed in 4 groups, 30 each and received either real Acupuncture or an inactive placebo pill, 32 women received placebo Acupuncture, and 28 women received Gabapentin.

Acupuncture had the greatest effect on overall hot flush/flash scores at 8 weeks, when all interventions ended, followed by placebo acupuncture and then gabapentin.

At 24 weeks, 16 weeks after treatments ended, acupuncture was still associated with the greatest reduction in hot flushes/flashes.

However even those who had placebo Acupuncture or placebo pills had steeper drops in hot flush/flash scores at 24 weeks than those who took gabapentin.

“The placebo effects for both acupuncture and drugs are quite intriguing, as they both seem to persist over time,” reports Dr. Mao . “The magnitude of the placebo effect for acupuncture is bigger than for the drug.”

To be fair its not a massive trial but it is well constructed given the limitations of funding for Acupuncture research and it ties in well with the research being conducted at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center / Harvard Medical School Program in Placebo Studies.  As with all medical research, more is always needed but this research ads to my own clinical observations when treating hot flushes/flashes.

Hot flushes are the most common symptom of the menopause and not all women will experience hot flushes going through the menopause, but most do. Three out of every four menopausal women have hot flushes. They’re characterised by a sudden feeling of heat which seems to come from nowhere and spreads through your body. They can include sweating, palpitations, and a red flush (blushing), which vary in severity from woman to woman.

Some women only have occasional hot flushes which don’t really bother them at all, while others report 20 hot flushes a day, that are uncomfortable, disruptive and embarrassing.
Hot flushes usually continue for several years after your last period,  however they can carry on for many years.  The most likely cause is hormone changes affecting the body’s temperature control.

And just in case you wanted to know the medical definition for a hot flush/flash is:  A vasomotor symptom of the climacteric characterized by sudden vasodilation with a sensation of heat!

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