March 24, 2016
With a sudden rush of heat from your chest to your head, you know what’s coming—a hot flash. Your skin reddens and you sweat visibly. Often, the episodes occur at night, disturbing your sleep and leaving you and your bed sheets drenched. Learn what you can do to help stop hot flashes.
What Are Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes are the most common side effect of menopause—the time in life when your body goes through hormonal changes (producing less estrogen and progesterone) and you no longer have a menstrual period.
But the change is not as simple as flipping a switch. It happens gradually. Hot flashes usually begin in the transition years before your periods stop completely, unless you have had surgery or cancer. They last an average of five to 10 years while diminishing in severity and frequency.
You may also notice other changes in your body’s response to menopause, such as mood swings and vaginal dryness, and you may begin to experience bone loss.
4 Remedies For Hot Flashes
Lifestyle changes, including exercise, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods, and dressing in layers can help relieve hot flashes. Practice slow, deep breathing if you feel a hot flash coming on. Some women find relief through meditation and other stress-reducing techniques. And finally, be conscious of anything that triggers your hot flashes and avoid them.
Exercise will help in other ways during your transition through menopause. It helps prevent weight gain that commonly occurs in midlife, relieves stress, improves your mood, and benefits your cardiovascular fitness. Remember, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women.
Hormone therapy replaces the estrogen lost in menopause. Though effective in controlling hot flashes, it must be used carefully because studies have linked it to an increased risk of breast cancer, stroke, heart disease, and blood clots. Guidelines call for women in greatest need to take the lowest possible dose for the shortest period of time.
- If you don’t have a uterus, your doctor may prescribe estrogen-only therapy.
- If you have a uterus, you may take estrogen plus progestin therapy. The progestin is added to protect against the risk of uterine cancer from taking estrogen alone.
Hormone therapy, the only treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration for menopausal-symptom relief, is also effective against vaginal dryness, night sweats, and can prevent bone loss.
Other medications may be recommended to relieve hot flashes when it’s not possible for you to take hormone therapy. These medications include antidepressants, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI), a blood pressure medicine called clonidine, and the seizure drug, gabapentin.
Complementary therapies, including herbal medications like black cohosh, are popular with some women who can’t take hormone therapy or are concerned about its side-effects. Supplements, however, can interact with any other medications you may be taking, so be sure to discuss them with your physician.
The North American Menopause Society lists natural remedies that have been used for menopausal symptoms, although research on the therapies has been mixed, inconclusive, or has shown no value.
When to See a Doctor
If you have any concerns, see your doctor. Just as each woman experiences menopause differently, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating menopausal symptoms.
Click here to view a seminar by Dr. Eichenlaub on menopause and hot flashes.
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