Acupuncture ‘may ease symptoms of the menopause’

Acupuncture may ease symptoms of the menopause, suggests a new study.

Researchers found that a brief course of acupuncture may help to ease troublesome menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, sweating, mood swings and disturbed sleep as well as skin and hair problems.

They said their findings, published in the online journal BMJ Open, show that acupuncture offers “a realistic” treatment option for women who can’t, or don’t want to, use hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Menopausal symptoms are common and, depending on their severity, can have a major impact on quality of life, health and well-being.

Hot flushes are one of the most common symptoms, and can go on for several years.

Other symptoms include heavy sweating, emotional vulnerability, sleep disturbances, fatigue, ‘fuzzy’ brain, joint pain, and reduced sex drive.

Hormonal and other drugs can treat the various symptoms, but they are not without side effects.

And the evidence for other non-pharmacological approaches – such as exercise, relaxation, and herbal or dietary remedies, isn’t very convincing, according to the Danish research team.

Previous studies suggest that acupuncture might be helpful, but the researchers said that design flaws or quality issues have undermined the findings.

The Danish team randomly allocated 70 menopausal women who met their inclusion criteria to either five weeks of standardised Western medical acupuncture, using pre-defined acupuncture points, or no acupuncture until after six weeks.

Each weekly session lasted 15 minutes, and was delivered by Danish family doctors from nine different general practices, who had additionally trained in acupuncture, and had been practising it for an average of 14 years.

Each participant completed a validated Meno Scores (MSQ) questionnaire, designed to measure outcomes from the patient’s perspective–before their first session and then again after three, six, eight, 11 and 26 weeks.

At six weeks most of the women in the acupuncture group (80 per cent) said that they felt that the sessions had helped them.

And compared with those who had not been given acupuncture, they were “significantly less troubled” by hot flushes – a difference that was already apparent after three weeks of ‘treatment’.

Statistically significant differences also emerged between the two groups in the frequency of day and night sweats, general sweating, sleep disturbances, emotional and physical symptoms, and skin and hair problems.

The drop-out rate was low, with just one woman failing to complete all five acupuncture sessions, and no serious side effects were reported.

The researchers said that their findings show that a brief course of acupuncture by suitably trained professionals is “feasible” in routine primary care for both doctors and patients.

Study co-author Dr Kamma Sundgaard Lund, of Copenhagen University, said: “Not all menopausal women need or request treatment, and we believe this acupuncture intervention is most relevant to women who experience moderate-to-severe menopausal symptoms.”

She added: “Acupuncture for menopausal symptoms is a realistic option for women who cannot, or do not wish to use HRT.”

By Stephen Beech

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