Hot Flashes during Menopause: Symptoms and Treatments
Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause with 3 out of 4 women experiencing them. In many cases, hot flashes occur long before other symptoms of menopause do. Forty percent of women experience hot flashes before experiencing irregular periods. Treatment for hot flashes is available in severe cases but for the most part, women may be able to get through this time with some simple lifestyle changes or alternative therapies.
Symptoms of Hot Flashes
In general, a hot flash begins by feeling pressure in the head and then increases to a mild-to-extreme warmth spreading from the upper body up to the face. The skin of the face, neck and upper body may become red and blotchy. Rapid heartbeat and perspiration may occur and then a chilling sensation as the hot flash ends. Some woman may also feel symptoms of fatigue, dizziness, faintness and weakness during a hot flash.
Hot flashes vary in time, frequency, strength and in the amount of years a woman may experience them. They can last up to 30 minutes but the average hot flash lasts only one or two minutes. Some women experience several hot flashes in one day while others may only experience one or two a month. Hot flashes can be very mild or may become very intense. Eighty percent of women stop experiencing hot flashes within five years while 10 percent of women may have them for up to 10 years.
Factors that may Increase Risk of Hot Flashes
The exact cause of hot flashes during menopause have yet to be determined but it has been found that certain factors can increase a woman’s risk of experiencing hot flashes. These factors include:
- Lack of exercise
- Ethnicity – African-American women are more likely to experience hot flashes than Caucasian women while Japanese and Chinese women are less likely to experience hot flashes than all women.
Treatments for Hot Flashes
Hot flashes do not need to be treated unless they are severe and disrupt your daily life. Treatments for severe hot flashes include:
- Hormone therapy – Estrogen or progesterone therapy
- Antidepressants – Certain antidepressants have been found in clinical studies to relieve hot flashes.
- Clonidine – A medication generally used to lower blood pressure, clonidine may lessen hot flashes.
- Gabapentin – This medication is usually used to treat seizures and various types of pain. It is mildly effective in treating hot flashes.
Herbal and Natural Remedies for Hot Flashes
Herbal and natural remedies for menopausal symptoms have been around for centuries but many have not been verified scientifically as effective. Some, however, have been studied extensively and many women find relief from mild to moderate hot flashes using these remedies. Always consult your doctor before taking any herbal remedy to make sure it will not counteract with prescription medication you are taking. Also, women who have a history of breast cancer or are at a high risk of breast cancer should not take herbal remedies without the consent of their doctor.
Black Cohosh – Black cohosh has been found effective in treating several symptoms of menopause including hot flashes. It has been used in Europe as a treatment for menopause symptoms for over 40 years. Not only is it the most studied herbal remedy for menopause symptoms but it has also been found to be safe when used over a six month time period. Recommended dose of black cohosh tablets or capsules is 40 to 80 milligrams per day.
Soy Isoflavones – Soy isoflavones contain plant-based estrogen which is a weaker form of true estrogen. One study found that taking 160 milligrams of soy isoflavones each day for three months reduced the number and severity of hot flashes in the women participants. Asian women, who eat a diet high in soy, generally do not experience hot flashes during menopause. Eating soy products is much more effective than taking supplements in treating menopausal symptoms but supplements can be effective if you do not enjoy soy foods. The recommended dose of soy isoflavones tablets is 50 to 150 milligrams per day. People who are allergic to soy should not take soy isoflavones supplements.
Vitamin E – Women report that taking vitamin E helps decrease the frequency of hot flashes. The recommended dose is 400 International Units per day.
Flaxseed – Flaxseed contains lignans which help to balance hormones and therefore are effective in treating menopausal symptoms. Women with mild to moderate hot flashes find adding flaxseed to their diet reduce their number and severity. Grounding up flaxseed and adding it to foods you already eat or taking flaxseed oil are the best ways to consume flaxseed. The recommended dose of flaxseed oil for adults is 1 to 2 teaspoons a day.
Other herbal remedies that help reduce hot flashes include:
- St. John’s wort
- Evening Primrose Oil
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Hot Flashes
There are a few things you can do to ward off or lessen the number of hot flashes. Keeping your body at a constant temperature can help from setting off a hot flash. Dress in layers so you can take items of clothing off if the temperature rises. Keep a fan nearby or turn up the air conditioning if you begin to feel warm. Drinking cold beverages can also help cool your body down if you feel a hot flash coming on.
Watch what you eat and drink. Eating hot, spicy foods or drinking alcohol can trigger a hot flash. Caffeine is also a trigger. If you find certain foods trigger hot flashes, avoid them.
Stress can also trigger hot flashes. Learn stress-reducing techniques or do deep-breathing exercises when stress gets the best of you. Meditation and yoga are also good ways to reduce stress.
Add exercise to your life. Scientists don’t know why but keeping active helps alleviate hot flashes. Try to exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
Watch your weight. Women who are overweight or obese tend to experience more hot flashes than women who are a healthy weight. Controlling your weight during menopause will not only help lessen hot flashes but will lower your risk of developing heart disease, which is a big concern for postmenopausal women.
If you are a smoker, now is the time to quit. Smoking places you at a higher risk of many diseases such as heart disease, cancer and stroke. Quitting smoking now will not only improve your health but can also lower your risk of hot flashes.
Hot flashes are a part of going through menopause but you don’t have to suffer through severe ones. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to lessen the number of and severity of hot flashes.