Hot flashes. Two words on the minds of many women over the age of 30. If you aren’t dealing with them, you’re wondering when you’ll have to deal with them. They can begin slowly, almost unnoticeable, or they can come on so suddenly that they take you by surprise. In the beginning, it may be easy to dismiss them. You’re still young. You don’t have time to worry about feeling warm. But early treatment really is the best course of action. The sooner you deal with your new heat waves, the better.
Are You Having Hot Flashes?
The first step is to identify if you are actually having early menopause hot flashes. Hot flashes go beyond the typical flush from exertion. It’s an intense feeling, sometimes described as a wave, of heat that seems to wash over your entire upper torso, neck, and face. The warmth is accompanied by a visible flushing of the skin and often a sudden onset of sweating. For women who experience severe hot flashes, additional symptoms can include mental fog, dizziness, or even nausea. Hot flashes typically last anywhere from 30 seconds to 4 minutes and frequently happen both during the day and at nighttime.
Benefits of Early Treatment
Once you suspect that you are having menopausal hot flashes, it’s never too early to seek treatment options. On average, women experience hot flashes for seven years, while some may last even longer according to the recent Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). Because hot flashes may intensify as you progress through early menopause, it’s best to find the treatment method that works for you in the beginning so that you can learn to ease your symptoms before they interfere with your daily life. Hot flashes may be the normal progression of early and full menopause, but you don’t have to put up with them. There are many options available, even if you’ve just recently started experiencing them.
There are both hormonal and nonhormonal treatments for hot flashes. Hormone therapy is reported as the most effective, however, there may be relief to be found for women who are not yet ready for that option or who are not appropriate candidates due to other medical issues. Some women report controlling or lessening their hot flashes (and other menopausal symptoms) by regulating their diet (avoiding caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, and other triggers), adjusting their environment (regulating indoor temperature, wearing light clothing), ceasing harmful lifestyle habits such as smoking, and using herbal supplements to reduce symptom severity. There is no specific, single way that all women must treat their hot flashes. It’s important to speak with your doctor and find the treatment that will work best for you.
How to Talk to Your Doctor
You may be worried that your doctor won’t take you seriously. After all, you’ve only had hot flashes for a few weeks. Maybe you’re overreacting. Maybe he’ll tell you other women have it much worse. Maybe he’ll misdiagnose you. Everyone has these thoughts, and none of them are founded. Your doctor would rather know your symptoms early instead of holding off until they become unbearable.
If you aren’t sure how to approach the subject or feel afraid you may not know how to explain your experience when it comes time for your appointment, one tool that will help is a personal journal. Once you have taken notice of hot flashes, starting keeping a written record. Note the frequency, severity, symptoms (even those that seem too small to mention), how you feel afterward, and for how long. Also write down any other things that seem to be changing with your body, mood, or mental state. Have you gained weight unexpectedly? Are you forgetting things more often? Any details you can provide to your medical professional will go a long way in helping him or her get you on a treatment plan so that you can go back to enjoying your days and nights.
Reviewed February 25, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Doctor, Just What Is a Hot Flash? ObGyn.net. Retrieved February 22, 2016. http://www.obgyn.net/hysterectomy/doctor-just-what-hot-flash
Menopause-related Hot Flashes and Night Sweats Can Last For Years. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved February 22, 2016. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/menopause-related-hot-flashes-night-sweats-can-last-years-201502237745
Avis NE et al. Duration of menopausal vasomotor symptoms over the menopause transition. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Apr; 175(4):531-9. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8063. Retrieved February 25, 2016. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2110996
Ways to Cope with Hot Flashes & Menopause. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 22, 2016. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic-what-is-perimenopause-menopause-postmenopause/hic-non-hormonal-ways-to-cope-with-hot-flashes-and-menopause