Menopause and Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are the most frequent symptoms of menopause and perimenopause. Hot flashes occur in more than two-thirds of North American women during perimenopause and almost all women with induced menopause or premature menopause.
See What to Expect During Perimenopause and Menopause
What Is a Hot Flash?
A hot flash -- sometimes called a hot flush -- is a momentary sensation of heat that may be accompanied by a red, flushed face and sweating. The cause of hot flashes is not known, but may be related to changes in circulation.
Hot flashes occur when the blood vessels near the skin's surface dilate to cool. This produces the red, flushed look to the face. A woman may also perspire to cool down the body. In addition, some women experience a rapid heart rate or chills.
Hot flashes accompanied with sweating can also occur at night. These are called night sweats and may interfere with sleep.
A hot flush is a hot flash plus a visual appearance of redness in the face and neck.
How Long Will I Have Hot Flashes?
The severity and duration of hot flashes varies among women going through menopause. Some women have hot flashes for a very short time during menopause. Other women may have hot flashes -- at least to some degree -- for life. Generally, hot flashes are less severe as time passes.
Can I Prevent Hot Flashes?
While it may be impossible to completely avoid hot flashes during menopause, there are certain triggers that may bring them on more frequently or cause them to be more severe. To prevent hot flashes, avoid these triggers:
• Spicy foods
• Tight clothing
• Cigarette smoke
Other things you can do to keep hot flashes at bay include:
• Stay cool. Keep your bedroom cool at night. Use fans during the day. Wear light layers of clothes with natural fibers such as cotton.
• Try deep, slow abdominal breathing (six to eight breaths per minute). Practice deep breathing for 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the evening and at the onset of hot flashes.
• Exercise daily. Walking, swimming, dancing, and bicycling are all good choices.
• Chill pillows; cooler pillows to lay head on at night might be helpful.
Talk to your doctor about taking short-term (less than five years) hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. This treatment prevents hot flashes in many women. In addition, it can help other symptoms of menopause, including vaginal dryness and mood disorders. However, even short-term hormone therapy carries some risks, including blood clots and gallbladder inflammation. If HRT is not right for you, there are other treatments that may offer relief. These include both over-the-counter and prescription therapies. It is important to clear any new drugs (including over-the-counter) or supplements with your doctor before taking.
Nonprescription treatments include:
• Vitamin B complex
• Vitamin E
Prescription treatments include:
• Catapres, Catapres-TTS, and Aldomet, blood pressure medications
• Birth control pills
• Antidepressants, such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Effexor
• Other hormones, such as Provera and Megace
• Neurontin, an anti-seizure drug
Are There Alternative Therapies to Relieve Hot Flashes?
Although some alternative therapies like botanical and herbal therapies have shown promise for relieving menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, more research is needed to determine the benefits and risks of these alternative remedies.
Because botanicals and herbs may have adverse side effects or exhibit harmful interactions with other medications, it is important to consult with your doctor before taking any of these products. Also, it's important to note that the manufacturing of these supplements is not regulated, leading to the possibility of taking too much or too little.
Botanicals and herbs that may help relieve hot flashes include:
• Soy products. Plant estrogens, found in soy products, such as isoflavones, are thought to have weak estrogen-like effects that may reduce hot flashes. Soy foods, not supplements, are recommended.
• Black cohosh. Some studies suggest that black cohosh may be helpful in the very short term (six months or less) for treating hot flashes and night sweats. Side effects include gastrointestinal upset.
• Evening primrose oil is another botanical that is often used to treat hot flashes, although there is no scientific evidence to support this. Side effects include nausea and diarrhea. Women taking certain medications, such as blood thinners, should not take evening primrose oil.
• Flaxseed. Although there is no scientific evidence to support using flaxseed, it is thought to decrease the symptoms of menopause, particularly hot flashes. Also known as linseed, flaxseed is available in both whole seed and seed oil forms.
Be sure to talk to your doctor before you take any medications to relieve hot flashes. Also, keep in mind that your hot flashes may be temporary. You may be able to manage without any treatment