Hot flashes are perhaps the most common concern of perimenopausal and menopause. The can be described as feeling flushed all over and hot, with warmth of the skin and 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 and Night Sweats
The two most common concerns during menopause and the perimenopausal time period are hot flashes and sometimes night sweats. Hot flashes occur in about 75 percent of all women going through menopause. Not flashes 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
• Having a faster heart rate
• Experiencing tingling of the fingers.
Causes of Hot Flashes
No one knows the exact cause of hot flashes. Most doctors feel as though they are due to fluctuations in the estrogen and progesterone levels normally produced 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, depending on the woman. Every woman experiences hot flashes in their own unique way. Nevertheless, 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
• Exposure to cigarette smoke, either by being a smoker or having to breathe in secondhand smoke
If you can’t figure out the trigger or triggers behind 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, a pattern may be found so you can avoid the triggers you have identified.
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 begins to manifest itself
• 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 medications that might interfere with the herbs or oils you are taking.
Herbs and Oils
Herbs and oils don’t enjoy the same research studies as is seen with hormone replacement therapy; however, many women swear by their effectiveness. Some herbs and oils that help combat hot flashes include the following.
• Red clover. While it helps hot flashes, it can raise the risk of having a bleeding disorder.
• Black cohosh. This is a popular treatment for hot flashes but it can’t be used by women who have liver disease.
• Dong quai. While this decreases hot flashes, it can increase the chances of bleeding if you are on warfarin (Coumadin), a popular blood thinner.
• Soy products. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which combat hot flashes. There are side effects, however, including diarrhea, constipation, or stomach pains.
• Evening primrose oil. This can lessen the effects of hot flashes but there are drug interactions with certain psychiatric medications and blood thinners.
Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan is the most popularly used Chinese medicinal formula to treat menopausal women experiencing hot flashes. It contains eight different herbs. Ginseng has also been very effective.
Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT
Hormone replacement therapy tends to fall out of favor and go back into favor over the years. The Women’s Health Initiative was a study done indicating 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 using this form of therapy.
HRT usually means replacing estrogen in the body that is not being produced by the ovaries. Progesterone is sometimes included because it prevents endometrial cancer and breast cancer in some women who take it. HRT is very effective in reducing the severity and number of hot flashes you get. Estrogen can be taken orally, through a patch, or via a vaginal gel or cream that is inserted into the vagina.
Non-hormonal Treatments for Hot Flashes
There are a couple of non-hormonal treatments for hot flashes that you can make use of. One of them is acupuncture. A study published in 2011 indicated that women who underwent acupuncture had fewer symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes and night sweats, when compared to women who had faked acupuncture. Meditation can manage your stress, which can reduce the perception of hot flashes. Remember that stress can be a trigger for hot flashes in some women.
Changes in Lifestyle
Changes in lifestyle may be just as effective in reducing the intensity and number of hot flashes as medications are. Some changes in lifestyle include eating small portions of health and well-balanced food, 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 the recommendations to manage hot flashes listed above. If some of them don’t work very well, try making use of another management tool. If nothing you do at home seems to be helping, talk to your doctor to see if something by prescription will reduce the hot flashes.