Hey, hot stuff! Handling hot flushes in menopause
Many women have a rough time coping with menopause. The changes that stop a woman’s monthly menstrual bleeding also cause unpleasant physical symptoms, including hot flushes. But don’t despair! There are many treatments and strategies that can help relieve menopausal hot flushes, so you can live your life to the full.
What is menopause?
Menopause occurs 12 months after a woman’s last menstrual bleeding. However, menopausal symptoms typically occur before menopause, in the peri-menopause or menopausal transition, when a woman’s hormone levels and the timing of her menstrual bleeding begin to fluctuate. These changes usually occur at around 50 years of age. However, they might occur earlier if a woman’s ovaries are damaged, for example by chemotherapy.
Menopausal symptoms and hot flushes
Menopause can cause many irritating and disruptive physical symptoms. Hot flushes (also known as hot flashes, or night sweats if they happen at night) are the most common menopausal symptom, and affect 70% of menopausal women. They usually start in the peri-menopause and persist for 2–6 years, although they can persist for decades. So it’s very lucky us ladies are tough!
What causes hot flushes?
Menopause and its symptoms are caused by the cessation of oestrogen production in the ovaries. Oestrogen influences the body’s thermoregulatory systems – that is, the systems that regulate body temperature. Oestrogen withdrawal at menopause can cause unusual body temperature patterns, particularly hot flushes.
Fire and rain: What do hot flushes feel like?
If you experience a hot flush, you’ll certainly know about it. They are described by menopausal women as feelings of intense heat, starting in the cheeks and spreading through the face, neck and body. They may last for just a couple of seconds or minutes, but can continue for hours. When they occur at night, they are often severe enough to interrupt sleep. When they occur in the day, hot flushes may cause anxiousness, heart palpitations and blotchy skin.
Chill out: Simple measures to cool down hot flushes
Women who have trouble managing menopausal hot flushes are not alone. Many women find it difficult to cope. There are some simple strategies you can implement to cool down hot flushes.
Keep your body healthy
A healthy body is less likely to experience menopausal symptoms, so the first step for women experiencing hot flushes is to develop healthy habits. Maintain a healthy diet and avoid foods you know trigger hot flushes. Reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption, and get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. If you’re a smoker, menopause is a great time to quit.
Keep a healthy mind
Women should also consider their emotional health, because if they’re not happy, coping with hot flushes when they do occur will be more difficult. Do you have support from friends and family? If not, who can you ask for support? Are there any problems with your intimate relationships which you could work on? Are your kids or your work stressing you out? What can you do to minimise the stress they cause? Have you tried relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation?
Deal with hot flushes when they occur
Even a healthy body and mind are no guarantee that menopausal hot flushes will disappear, but there are simple measures that can reduce their impact when they do occur:
- Keep the body cool, through cold drinks, fans or showers;
- Dress in layers so you can strip off easily when you get a hot flush;
- Breathe! It may sound simple, but conscious breathing can reduce panic; and
- Use cotton sheets and sleep in a cool room.
But I’m still hot and bothered! How hot is too hot?
If you’re still too hot, you need to talk to your doctor about other treatment options. The best treatment will depend on how severe your hot flushes are, so be prepared to answer lots of hot flush questions!
Can’t I just pop a pill and get it all over and done with?
There are many medications that can be used to treat hot flushes. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) replaces oestrogen (and often also progesterone) to your body and effectively relieves hot flushes (even in severe cases) for most women. So yes, some women can just pop a pill and get menopausal hot flushes over and done with.
But beware! While HRT provides relief of hot flushes, it also carries serious health risks. Be sure to discuss with your doctor the risks and benefits of HRT and of other medications that can be used to treat hot flushes, such as antidepressants and antihypertensives.
But I want something natural!
If you’re looking for a more natural treatment, you may just find it. There are several natural remedies used to treat hot flushes. If you’re considering a natural remedy, though, bear in mind that being natural doesn’t guarantee its safety or effectiveness. Many natural remedies have not been tested to determine how effective they are and, like pharmacy medicines, they can have serious side effects. Take some time to discuss the pros and cons of natural remedies with your doctor.
Whatever you do, don’t sit their getting hot and bothered about menopausal hot flushes. Take steps to ensure your body is in optimal health and, if you still have hot flush problems, go to your doctor and get treated so you can chill out and enjoy your life. 50 is the new 40!
For more information seeHot Flushes in Menopause.