Have you ever heard the expression “men sweat, but women glow?”
Obviously, whoever coined that phrase wasn’t a woman dealing with menopause and night sweats.
Looking back, my night sweats were clearly part of my going through perimenopause in my early 40s. But at the time, neither my physician nor I were making that connection. He believed that it was a side effect of the medications I was taking for irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.
That sounded reasonable to me, so I didn’t push it. Frankly, I was too tired from all of that bed linen and pajama changing all night long to challenge his diagnosis.
Seriously—I was waking up at least 3 times a night, every single night, drenched in sweat. My pajamas were soaked, as was my pillow case and my sheets. I was sweating so much, the moisture was going all the way through the pad to the mattress.
This happened so often, I actually got pretty good at dealing with it. I began keeping a stack of fresh linens next to my bed, and some spare changes of nightgowns. When I woke up, sweaty and freezing, I could change both myself and the bed without disturbing my husband or leaving the room.
That’s the other part about night sweats that’s really miserable—the chills that accompany them.
Speaking of my husband, in case you are wondering, we have the type of bed that has two separate top mattresses, so he was able to sleep through my nighttime maneuvers. Of course, he could sleep through a train coming through our bedroom. Do I sound upset? Well, yes, but that’s another blog.
No one really had any advice for me on how to make things better. I figured night sweats were just something I had to live with.
When I was 42, I underwent my hysterectomy. That’s when the hot flashes began to kick in.
Actually, I called them “power surges,” the way the waves of heat would come at me at about 100 miles per hour. By this time, I was taking other medicines—hormones and other things—that were supposed to help my body regulate itself after the surgery.
After months of suffering, I finally saw a wonderful Tucson physician who helped me get on the correct hormone medications. One was a compounded testosterone cream that was just amazing and the other was an FDA-approved estrogen-based gel—once I began to use it on a regular basis the night sweats stopped, and the hot flashes went away.
That’s when it all began to make sense to me. My night sweats weren’t side effects—they were symptoms! Symptoms of a common and normal change in women’s hormonal levels, and something that should have been totally treatable all along.
One day, I heard some horrible news—the drug company Wyeth was trying to stop compounding hormonal medication. That was just the beginning as far as I was concerned. No one was going to take my compounded testosterone cream away from me. I decided right then to fight Wyeth and the Food and Drug Administration over this decision.
During this time, I was asked to do my first radio show that would be syndicated to other stations all over the world. I sat on the floor of my home, surrounded by dozens of note cards, hoping I had prepared enough to do the interview.
Finally, the program started, and I found myself speaking with the young man who was hosting the show. Right off the bat he said to me “So, I understand that you have hot flashes and night sweats. What are you going to do, have every woman send their sweaty nighties to the FDA in retaliation, or maybe your empty prescription bottles?”
The heat I felt then wasn’t from a hot flash or night sweat—it was from the anger rising up in my throat. I felt humiliated and embarrassed by his flippant remark.
I managed to reply to him that no, we were certainly not going to mail anyone our sweat-soaked pajamas, and that in fact, my battle with Wyeth had nothing to do with nighties, sweaty or not.
Sadly, this young man is probably far from alone. I fear that many men just don’t get it, or understand it, or think that night sweats or hot flashes are no big deal. And some of these are physicians who are supposed to be treating us.
When the show ended, the host told me that his own Mom also suffered from night sweats. I told him quite candidly that if this was the case, then he needed to be more empathetic and change his tone when discussing the topic.
I’d like to think that this was a turning point for him, but I’m not really sure. Maybe if his Mom took his advice and mailed him her sweaty nightie sometime (and the bed sheets too!) he might start to get it.
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