Men may consider themselves lucky, since nature has reserved most of the painful experiences for women: PMS, childbirth, and menopausal changes. But a phenomenon that was considered an exclusively female domain — hot flashes — seems to affect certain men, too. Now a new therapy, hypnotic relaxation, may give these silently suffering men relief.

This therapy, though unconventional, has been found to greatly reduce the symptoms associated with hot flashes in men. A case study conducted by Baylor University, tracked the progress of a 69-year-old man who had uncontrolled hot flashes following prostate cancer surgery. Following seven weeks of hypnotic relaxation therapy, the man showed significant decrease in hot flashes and improvement in sleep patterns. The Baylor study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.

"Men are more reluctant to report hot flashes, and it's not as prevalent. There are fewer ways to deal with it," said study author Dr. Gary Elkins in a press release. "If a guy has hot flashes, you can't say, 'Well, why don't we put you on estrogen?' But it's a pressing problem."

Why Do Some Men Get Hot Flashes?

While plummeting levels of estrogen are responsible for hot flashes in women, in men it is testosterone which is to blame. But not all men get hot flashes. That is because even though testosterone levels start dropping by about one percent a year after the age of 40, in most men, enough levels are maintained to prevent hot flashes.

The problem occurs for men with a history of prostate cancer. These men receive hormone deprivation therapy, since testosterone causes the prostate cells to grow uncontrollably leading to malignancy. The therapy reduces testosterone and androgen levels or blocks their action in the body to treat the cancer.

Up to 80 percent of prostate survivors experience hot flashes, and for about 50 percent of these, it can be severe enough to warrant treatment. The frequency, duration, and severity of hot flashes in these men may even surpass those in women. Men experience the same symptoms of hot flashes as women — a sudden warm or hot sensation near the head and body, accompanied by redness of skin and profuse sweating. 

Interventions for hot flashes in men range from antidepressant medication and hormone therapy to acupuncture. But results have not been very satisfactory, according to the study. Elkins’ previous research has shown that hypnotic relaxation therapy gives a lot of relief to postmenopausal women and breast cancer survivors who suffer from hot flashes. 

The patient in the Baylor study, referred to as "Mr. W," was a married African-American man, who suffered nightly hot flashes in 1999 because of androgen deficiency. He was given testosterone injections, but in 2010 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was forced to discontinue hormone therapy. His hot flashes reappeared when his prostate was surgically removed.

During the seven weeks of his hypnotic therapy, he received no drugs and the therapy was carried out by clinically trained therapists. Self-hypnosis was also introduced and results were measured in self-reporting and physiological testing, done by wearing skin monitors with electrodes. By the end of the treatment, he experienced a 94 percent reduction in hot flashes. His sleep quality improved by 87 percent, measured by a standardized test. Although the sleep quality had dropped at a 12-week follow-up, it remained in the "good quality of sleep" range, according to the study. 

In an interview with Elkins, Mr .W after several weeks of therapy said that it had helped him tremendously. “One time, I got so relaxed I thought I could hear myself snoring, but I could hear the young lady that was taking me through the steps of hypnosis of where I'd go to be most  comfortable,” he said.

Before the treatment, he used to experience around 160 flashes per week, accompanied by intense heat and profuse sweating. But over the course of the treatment, those dropped to about 15 a week, he said in the interview.  While in hypnosis, he visualized fishing, wearing imaginary rubber boots, wading into the water, and enjoying the cool breeze. The therapy "eliminated the flashes, calmed me down, cooled my body off," he said. "During one session, I needed a blanket. ... The self-hypnosis was empowering." 

Treating Hot Flashes In Women With Hypnosis

During his previous studies with post-menopausal women and breast cancer survivors, Elkins found that in women who had undergone hypnotic relaxation therapy, occurrence of hot flashes reduced by 80 percent. They also reported improved quality of life and lessened anxiety and depression. "And that's all without the increased risk of breast cancer or heart disease associated with hormone treatments such as estrogen or progestin," Elkins said. 

These 187 women received weekly sessions over a five-week period from clinically trained therapists. They also practiced self-hypnosis. The results were monitored by wearing skin monitors with electrodes and keeping records of when the women had hot flashes, how often, how severe they were, and what might have triggered flashes, such as stress, spicy foods, or being in a hot room.

Since hypnosis is not a group therapy and has to cater to the specific individual, women were encouraged to individualize their therapy. People also differ when it comes to being "hypnotizable," but most people do respond to it.  

Acknowledging that hormone replacement therapy has its benefits of improving bone health and reducing risk of colon cancers in women, Elkins said, "There's no 'One size fits all. But hypnotic relaxation therapy has been shown to be the most effective drug-free option — as well as having few or no side effects." 

Source: Elkins G, Kendrick C, Crenshaw L, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 2014.