Hot flashes are one of most common concern of perimenopause and menopause. What are they like? Women describe them as feeling flushed all over and hot, with warm skin and sometimes sweating.
They can occur several times throughout the day or night and can have various triggers, such as caffeine intake, wearing clothing that is too tight, spicy foods, and alcohol, among other things.
Hot flashes occur in about 75 percent of all women going through menopause. They begin in perimenopause but can persist for as many as 5 years after menopause has passed.
Definition of Hot Flashes
As mentioned, hot flashes occur with typical symptoms of feeling intensely hot internally. They can gradually creep up on you or can suddenly appear without warning.
Other typical symptoms of hot flashes include the following:
- Sweating, particularly above the waist
- Flushing of the face or seeing redness on your cheeks
- Suddenly feeling extremely warm
- Faster heart rate
- Tingling of the fingers.
Causes of Hot Flashes
No one knows the exact cause of hot flashes. It’s thought that hot flashes occur due to loss of estrogen and progesterone production by the ovaries. Hot flashes can be barely noticeable or can be quite debilitating.
Things that trigger Hot Flashes
Triggers for hot flashes can be different for different women. Every woman experiences hot flashes in their own unique way. Common triggers for hot flashes include the following:
- Wearing clothing that is too tight
- Feeling anxiety or stress
- Being in an environment that is already too hot
- Drinking caffeinated beverages
- Drinking alcohol, even when not in excess
- Eating dairy products
- Eating chocolate
- Exposure to cigarette smoke, either by being a smoker or having to breathe in secondhand smoke
If you can’t figure out what causes your hot flashes, try writing down your daily activities and relating what you are doing with the onset of hot flashes. If you do this for a few days, you may identify a pattern and learn to avoid the triggers.
Managing Hot Flashes
Sometimes it is easy to get a handle on your hot flashes using simple lifestyle changes. Some of the more common methods used to combat hot flashes include the following:
- Keep an ice pack or cold cloth by your bedside for nighttime hot flashes
- Wearing clothing made of cotton that is loose-fitting
- Use sheets that are made from cotton
- Sip ice water as the hot flash starts
- Dress in layers so you can peel off a layer or two when the hot flashes are at their worst
Supplements for Hot Flashes
Many women do not want to take the risk of using hormone therapy for their hot flashes. Instead, they turn to natural remedies that may reduce the incidence of hot flashes. If you are going to use herbs or oils for your symptoms, talk to your doctor about any possible interactions with medications you currently take.
Herbs and Oils
Herbs and oils have not been researched as much as hormone replacement therapy; however, many women swear by their effectiveness. Some herbs and oils that help combat hot flashes include the following.
- Red clover. May help hot flashes, but can raise the risk of bleeding.
- Black cohosh. A popular treatment for hot flashes but it can’t be used by women who have liver disease.
- Dong quai. Decreases hot flashes, but can increase the chances of bleeding if you are on warfarin (Coumadin), a popular blood thinner.
- Soy products. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which can combat hot flashes. May cause diarrhea, constipation, or stomach pains.
- Evening primrose oil. Can decrease hot flashes but interacts with many drugs so check with your doctor.
Using Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT
Hormone replacement therapy is controversial. The Women’s Health Initiative study indicated that HRT increased the risk of breast cancer and heart disease in some people. Even so, for women with extremely debilitating hot flashes, the benefits may outweigh the risks of HRT.
Hormone replacement is estrogen and progesterone taken as a cream or a patch to replace the hormones no longer made by the ovaries. Progesterone must be used in women with a uterus to avoid endometrial cancer. HRT is very effective in reducing the severity and number of hot flashes. Estrogen is sometimes prescribed as a vaginal gel or cream that is inserted into the vagina. Vaginal estrogen is for local vaginal symptoms only and does not affect the body as a whole.
Non-hormonal Treatments for Hot Flashes
Acupuncture can help with hot flashes. A study published in 2011 showed that women who underwent acupuncture had fewer symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes and night sweats, when compared to women who had pretend acupuncture.
Meditation can help you manage stress. This can reduce the perception of hot flashes. Remember that stress can be a trigger for hot flashes in some women.
Changes in Lifestyle
Lifestyle change can be just as effective in reducing the intensity and number of hot flashes as medications. Some changes in lifestyle include dietary modifications, quitting smoking, and engaging in regular exercise.
Staying Positive around Hot Flashes
Every woman has her own experiences with hot flashes. You may have few symptoms of hot flashes or severe symptoms that interfere with daily living. Try some of these recommendations to manage your hot flashes. If something doesn’t work, move on to another solution. Always discuss treatment with your doctor. And let me know if any of these solutions help you!