Diana Post, M.D., is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Does acupuncture help with menopause symptoms like hot flashes?
Many women have bothersome symptoms related to menopause. These can include hot flashes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, and vaginal dryness. Other symptoms that might relate to menopause include mood changes, difficulty with memory, incontinence, and fatigue. In the recent past, menopausal hormone therapy was the main treatment for these symptoms. However, studies found that there may be increased risk of heart disease or other health problems when women took hormone treatment for a long time. So many women are turning to "complementary and alternative" treatment options. Unfortunately, there is very little good scientific evidence to support the effectiveness and safety of most of these therapies used to treat menopausal symptoms. That does not mean that these therapies don't work. We just don't really know.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing tradition, dating back over 200 years. It is widely used for "women's problems" such as cramps, hot flashes and infertility. There are, however, very few good clinical trials that have looked at the use of acupuncture for menopausal symptoms. One study in 2006 looked at acupuncture to treat nighttime hot flashes. Although it was a small study, it suggested that acupuncture treatments might indeed reduce the severity (but not the frequency) of the nighttime hot flashes.
The good news is that acupuncture is generally quite safe, and if you are bothered by menopausal symptoms, you might consider a course of treatment. Very few complications from acupuncture have been reported. Choose your acupuncturist carefully. Make sure that your acupuncturist uses only sterile, single-use, approved acupuncture needles. The acupuncturist should also wipe off treatment sites with alcohol or other disinfectant before the needles are inserted.
Clearly, acupuncture should be studied further as a treatment for menopausal symptoms. Until that time, people will have to decide whether or not to try acupuncture without a great deal of scientific evidence to help with the decision.