Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) could effectively manage menopause symptoms, according to results of a new study published in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

Although hormone replacement therapy is the most commonly recommended treatment for menopause symptoms, research is ongoing for alternatives, especially nonpharmacologic options. Cognitive behaviour therapy has previously been proposed as a low-risk treatment for hot flashes

Other common menopause symptoms include depression, sleep disturbances, and sexual function. Controversies regarding the adverse effects of hormone therapy have prompted some women to seek other options. Alternative treatments such as antidepressants have proven effective in treating menopause-related depression and, to a lesser extent, hot flashes. But these options can also have adverse effects.

How cognitive behaviour therapy works

Cognitive behaviour therapy is a type of psychotherapy that teaches patients how to modify dysfunctional emotions, behaviours, and thoughts and to develop personal coping strategies. It has proven effective in multiple studies in the treatment of various mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety.

Previous studies relative to menopause symptoms, however, have focused only on its ability to manage hot flashes. This new study is the first of its kind to address a broad range of common physical and psychological menopause symptoms.

The study demonstrated that cognitive behaviour therapy significantly improved hot flashes, depression, sleep disturbances, and sexual concerns, although little improvement was seen in anxiety. Moreover, the improvements were maintained for at least 3 months posttreatment. Although a small study, it lays the foundation for future research focused on how various psychological treatments may help the millions of women who suffer from menopause symptoms.

"This small study is in line with other studies of menopausal women showing a benefit of cognitive behaviour therapy in improving hot flashes. It additionally demonstrated an improvement in depression, sleep, and sexual function," says Dr JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director. "Larger trials comparing cognitive behaviour therapy to other active treatments will help us to better understand how effective this therapy will be in highly symptomatic women."