WebMD fell short of the competing LA Times story in reporting on this study.
This story gives a limited perspective on the new trial data that leave the reader thinking it probably works, without drawing the limitations into question. The single independent comment does not deal with the study’s “science” but rather the need for new and effective treatments.
Menopausal symptoms are extremely common (as stated by the writer) and bothersome. New therapies that are non-pharmacologic are welcome, if they are effective.
The story does not detail the costs of the weekly sessions of therapeutic hypnosis, which are likely to be high.
The story leads by saying that “alternative therapy reduced hot flashes by as much as 74%” and later that “Women in the hypnosis group reported 74% fewer hot flashes on average, compared with 17% fewer among the other women.” But the story doesn’t explain “74% of what?” – from what to what? That’s what’s needed in order to judge the potential scope of the benefit in terms that are most meaningful to readers.
The story does not describe any possible harms or side effects of the alternative therapy. It does, however, mention that hormone therapy comes with its own risks. The LA Times article, by comparison, correctly states there is no known risk of hypnosis.
The article fails to mention any limitations in the study, such as its small study size and short duration. Furthermore, although the study was randomized, it was not double-blind. And how long did the effects last? Would patients have to undergo hypnosis for the rest of their lives to experience fewer hot flashes?
The story does not engage in disease mongering.
The WebMD quotes a researcher tied to the study and the Executive Director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). The study was published in Menopause, which is the journal of NAMS. A comment from an independent source would have been welcome, especially if he/she discussed the study’s limitations and significance. Furthermore, any potential conflicts of interest are not mentioned.
The story mentions hormone therapy as an effective treatment with risks, but does not go further into detail. The researcher is quoted as saying in the article, “Only hormone therapy, which many women can’t take or want to avoid, is more effective for treating the most common symptom of menopause.” But how much more effective is hormone therapy? And what exactly are the risks? The researcher also adds that therapeutic hypnosis works “as well or better” than antidepressants or other non-hormonal therapies, but it would have helped if the story specifically described the non-hormonal alternatives.
The LA Times article gave a better description of the other complementary/alternative medicine treatments.
It wasn’t clear whether a clinician could conduct the self-hypnosis trainings, or whether the patient needed to find another certified professional. And how were the hypnotic recordings obtained? Towards the end, the story does include the comment about finding a qualified hypotherapist. But readers aren’t given any sense of how easy/difficult that might be.
The story mentions that researchers conducted a similar trial in breast cancer patients with treatment-related symptoms. Researchers now wanted to see whether a similar approach could help women whose symptoms were related to menopause. That was good context.
The story does not rely on a press release. There is evidence of original reporting, with the two comments from the researcher and the NAMS director.