Hot flashes- those feelings of warmth that spread over your body – go along with menopause the way, for some women, food cravings go along with pregnancy. They signal the final stage of your hormonal cycle, as your ovaries stop producing progesterone and later, estrogen. About 70 percent of women, at some point in their menopausal transition, will experience these heat waves.
And although you can’t always be prepared (hot flashes can happen at unpredictable moments, like when you’re in the middle of a business meeting!), it’s good to know some things in advance:
- Hot flashes can happen during the early stages of the menopausal transition (called “perimenopause,” which typically begins as much as 10 years before actual menopause.)
- Overweight women tend to have more bothersome hot flashes, so weight loss may be helpful. Smokers also experience more hot flashes than non-smokers.
- The heat sensation of hot flashes occurs from a disorder in thermoregulation, the mechanism way your body uses to controls and regulate body temperature – although the exact mechanism of how hormones affect body heat is not totally understood.
- Most women will experience hot flashes from six months to two years, although some reports indicate that they can last as long as 10 years.
- There are treatments for hot flashes. They cannot cure them, but can offer relief. Treatments include prescription hormone therapy (HT), or non-hormone drugs approved to treat depression, called selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which have been found to be an effective treatment in women who don’t have depression. So far, the FDA has approved the SSRI paroxetine for this purpose. Some prescription medications are used “off label” to treat hot flashes, meaning that they are not FDA approved for this purpose, but are often used because they can be a safe and effective treatment.
- The frequency of hot flashes varies from woman to woman. Some will get one or two a day, while others will get one or two an hour. Each hot flash will usually subside in a few minutes.
- Hot flashes are especially common at night. Wearing breathable cotton sleepwear, using cotton sheets and keeping the temperature in your bedroom low can help. Replace your down comforter with a light blanket made of cotton, or instead of a blanket, sleep with a low thread count sheet. Wearing socks to bed is helpful for some women (this can help cool core body temperature.)
- Drinking alcohol prior to bedtime can make nocturnal hot flashes and night sweats more intense. So can spicy foods, which can increase the body’s core temperature.
- Deep breathing, which can help reduce stress, may help to decrease both the intensity and frequency of hot flashes. An added plus: Deep breathing can also help you fall back to sleep if profuse sweating awakens you in the middle of the night. Aim for deep, slow abdominal breathing, taking six to eight breaths per minute.
- Some women report relief with non-drug treatments like black cohosh; and incorporating more plant estrogens (also known as isoflavones) into their diets (like soybeans, chickpeas and lentils).