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'Nerve Block' to Neck Might Help Ease Hot Flashes

Women in small study suffered fewer moderate-to-severe episodes due to menopause

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Feb. 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Women suffering from hot flashes might get some relief through an injection of an anesthetic near a nerve bundle in the neck, a small new study finds.

This technique, called a stellate ganglion block, is a common treatment for pain and might be an alternative for women who can't take or are reluctant to take hormone replacement therapy, the researchers said.

"Women are looking for nonhormonal alternatives for hot flashes," said senior researcher Pauline Maki, an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Maki said some women who had a stellate ganglion block to relieve pain also reported a decrease in the frequency and intensity of their hot flashes, which is what led to this study.

"The findings from our study provide some compelling data that this procedure may offer women a novel, nonhormonal approach to controlling their hot flashes," she said.

The procedure isn't painless, and the most common side effect is pain at the injection site. "If a woman wants to try this procedure, she needs to go to a trained anesthesiologist," Maki said.

The study, which received support from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Northwestern University, was published recently in the online edition of the journal Menopause.

Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of the North American Menopause Society, said, "stellate ganglion block is a very exciting area for research for treatment of moderate to severe hot flashes."

Gass said many women -- particularly those with breast cancer -- might find stellate ganglion block an acceptable alternative to hormone therapy or antidepressants such as Paxil, which have been approved to treat hot flashes.

More research is needed, however, to see how well stellate ganglion block stacks up against other treatments, she said.

"These initial reports beg for larger and longer studies," Gass said. "We want to know how long the treatment lasts, how often it would need to be repeated, whether this is the ideal dose and if hot flashes return. We don't know the answers to these questions."

Not everyone sees the benefit of the nerve-block procedure.

"It's great that it decreases the number of severe hot flashes, but patients still have hot flashes a lot of times per day," said Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "That's still really disruptive."

"I am not sure that a majority of patients will want to try this therapy," she said.

For the study, Maki's group randomly assigned 40 women, aged 30 to 70, with moderate to severe hot flashes to receive either stellate ganglion block or a fake treatment with a plain saline solution.

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