Understanding and Dealing with Hot Flashes

Written by Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN | Published on February 17, 2012

Coming to Grips

Whether it creeps up on you or you know it’s coming, menopause is a fact of life for all women.

One of the most common complaints about menopause is hot flashes or night sweats, affecting three-quarters of all women in perimenopause (the period before actual menopause). One out of every two women in menopause has at least one hot flash each day and they continue for up to five years in 1 out of 10 women.

What is a Hot Flash?

A hot flash is a feeling of intense heat, not caused by external sources. Hot flashes can appear suddenly or you may feel them coming on. You may experience:

  • Tingling in you fingers
  • Your heart beating faster than usual
  • Your skin starting to feel hot
  • Your face getting red
  • Sweating

What Causes Hot Flashes?

We don’t know yet what causes hot flashes but it’s believed they’re related to hormone changes in the body. Some women barely notice hot flashes or consider them an annoyance, but other women may find them so bad that the hot flashes affect their quality of life.

Here are some ideas that might help you prevent hot flashes from occurring or to reduce the discomfort.

Hot Flash Triggers

Do you know what brings upon your hot flashes triggers? Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Consuming products with caffeine
  • Eating spicy foods
  • Being in a hot room
  • Being stressed
  • Wearing tight clothing
  • Smoking or being exposed to cigarette smoke

Start Simple

Some women are able to manage their hot flashes with some simple tools or techniques. Have you tried any of these? Here are some easy ways to find relief:

  • Dressing in layers, even on the coldest days, so you can adjust your clothing to how you are feeling.
  • Sipping ice water at the start of a hot flash
  • Wearing cotton night clothes and use cotton bed linens
  • Keeping a thermos of ice water and an ice pack on your bedside table

Nature’s Medicine Cabinet

Many women are turning to natural products to help with managing hot flashes and night sweats. If you take natural products or supplements, it’s important that you mention this to your doctor and pharmacist whenever you discuss your health and medications.

Some products can interfere with medications (over-the-counter and prescription) and they can also have an effect on some illnesses.

Keep reading to see some of the most commonly used natural products.

Herb and Oil Relief

While medical studies have not backed up their effectiveness, some women find these products are helpful.

  • Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa) – should not be taken if you have a liver disorder
  • Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
  • Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) – interacts with the blood thinner, Warfarin. Please check with your doctor before taking this.
  • Evening Primrose Oil (Oenothera biennis) – may affect blood thinners and some psychiatric medications
  • Soy

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

The popularity of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) comes and goes, but for some women whose hot flashes are debilitating and greatly affect the quality of their life, it may be an option.

Taking estrogen supplements levels out the amount of estrogen in your system, reducing the incidence and severity of hot flashes and night sweats. Estrogen, usually taken with progestin to reduce the risk of developing endometrial cancer, can be taken by pill, through a cream or gel, or a patch.

Non-Hormonal Treatments

Other medications have been found to help women whose hot flashes and night sweats are too difficult to manage. While they weren’t developed directly for this purpose, some women find them effective.

Usually given for nerve pain, Gabapentin and Pregabalin have provided relief for some women. Gabapentin is also given for seizures. Antidepressants venlafaxine (Effexor), fluoxetine (Prozac), and paroxetine (Paxil) are also known to be effective for hot flashes.

Alternative Therapies

Acupuncture may be helpful, without the side effects of medication. A small study published in March 2011 found that women who had acupuncture twice a week for 10 weeks had significantly fewer hot flashes than the women in the study that didn’t have acupuncture.

Meditation can also be very successful in helping manage stress levels, one of the hot flash triggers for many women. 

Lifestyle Changes

As mentioned earlier, sometimes your lifestyle choices may make as great an impact on your body as any medication or supplement you take. Living a healthy lifestyle may not only reduce the incidence and/or severity of hot flashes, they may reduce the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Be mindful of the following ways you can improve your health:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Stopping smoking, if you do

Don't Get Discouraged

Just as no two women are alike, neither are the ways their bodies react to different ways of managing their hot flashes and night sweats. If one method doesn’t seem to work for you, another might. And, as tough as it may be to keep in mind while in the midst of your own personal heat wave, this too shall pass.

For more on how to get the most out of your menopausal years, visit the Menopause Center.

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