Hot flashes are a common side effect of menopause. Menopause is a normal part of aging in women around the age of 45-55. When a woman is born, she has all her eggs stored in her ovaries. During menopause, ovulation (release of an egg from the ovaries) stop and along with that so does a woman’s period. This means that women can no longer get pregnant naturally. Some women experience premature menopause, either due to the surgical removal of ovaries or the damage to the ovaries due to chemotherapy.
There are some key symptoms that women experience during menopause. These include:
- Hot flashes - a sudden feeling of heat usually around the face, neck and chest. You might notice your skin going red and sweaty
- Night sweats - hot flashes that occur at night
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- A reduced libido
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Changes in mood (mood swings) - low mood or anxiety
- Palpitation - noticing your heart race
- Stiffness in the joints, aches and pain
- Recurrent urinary tract infection
- Pain, discomfort, itching or vaginal dryness during sex
Hot flashes are the most common side effects of menopause, with around 80% of menopausal women experiencing it. Women usually experience this during the lead up to reaching menopause and continue a few years after your last period. Hot flashes are described as a sudden sensation of heat that occurs spontaneously fand spread throughout the body. This can also be associated with palpitation, blushing, sweating, and the lack of concentration.
Hot flashes can occur at any time of the day, lasting for several minutes. The average length of a hot flash is around 4 minutes. Some may have them every hour or several times a week. Sometimes, women can experience hot flashes at night which is referred to as night sweats. Some women only experience hot flashes occasionally and it does not really interfere with their day. However, for other women, these hot flashes can be very uncomfortable and embarrassing and have a huge impact on their day.
There are key triggers of hot flashes. These include:
- Consumption of spicy food
- Caffeine and alcohol consumption
- Wearing thick layers
- High-temperature environment
- Stress or anxiety
- Certain types of cancer treatment
- Certain medication
- Certain health conditions such as an overactive thyroid, diabetes or tuberculosis
Hot flashes can be very uncomfortable, especially if you’re experiencing them regularly. Hot flashes are unpredictable, however, they are some ways to help prevent triggering them.
- Stay clear of triggers: Some key triggers of hot flashes are alcohol and caffeine consumption, eating spicy food and stress. Each individual reacts differently to different triggers. To help identify which triggers might be causing you hot flashes, try keeping a diary for a couple of weeks and see if you notice a link between any of the triggers.
- Dressing: Wearing tight clothing or multiple layers can cause a hot flash to occur. It is advised to wear lighter, breathable clothing made of natural fabrics. These include cotton, silk or soft wool. Try wearing looser layers and avoid tight clothing. During the winter when it is cold, it is normal to pile on the layers to keep warm. Wearing a few light layers might help, as it will allow you to easily remove the layers when you experience a hot flash.
- Bedtime: Hot flashes at night are called night sweats and this too is common. Try keeping your room cool, and instead of using a heavy duvet try using some lighter blankets that can be easily removed when you feel a hot flash coming on. Get some made of the material stated above: cotton, silk, and soft wool.
- Fan yourself: Purchasing a fan is a good investment. It is wise to keep a fan handy for the times when you need to cool down. If you’re going out, keeping a small battery-powered fan or a hand fan will be very useful, especially during the hot summer days.
- Cooling spray: As well as keeping a fan handy, you could also keep a small water spray with you. You can either purchase a refreshing water spray at any pharmacy or simply make one yourself at home. When you feel hot, spritz yourself with some water and it will help you cool down.
- Showering: As much as we all enjoy a nice warm shower or bath particularly during winter, this is something that should be avoided. Hot showers can trigger hot flashes. Try taking a lukewarm/medium shower or if you can manage even a cool shower.
- Lifestyle changes: If you already lead a healthy lifestyle that is great. If not make strides to change some aspects of your lifestyle to a more healthy one. Try eating more healthily, stop smoking, exercise regularly and drink more water. The recommended quantity of water is 2 liters a day. This will not only help with hot flashes but can reduce the risk of developing heart disease and osteoporosis (weak bones) which are other side effects of menopause.
- Medication: If you are taking medication where hot flashes are a side effect, it might be best to speak to your doctor about switching to another medication is possible.
Some women learn to live with hot flashes, however, for some women they are particularly difficult. There is an effective treatment type that has been found to be highly effective in counteracting hot flashes. It is called hormone replacement treatment (HRT). There are many benefits of HRT, not only does it help hot flashes but it also combats other menopausal side effects. However, it is imperative to speak to your doctor before starting HRT as they come with some serious side effects and might not be suitable for some women.