Turn down the heat: Facts about hot flashes

woman-with-hot-flush-drinking-water

Hot flashes can be pretty common for women and, while they are nothing to be ashamed of, they can be frustrating to deal with each day. Having your own personal “summer” can feel isolating, but you are not alone.

Pooja Shah, MD, OB/GYN at Banner Health Center, says that hot flashes are normal and happen in up to 80% of women who are going through menopause – the time of life when a woman’s menstrual periods stop as she leaves her child-bearing years. Hot flashes are often related to changes in hormone levels and a decrease in estrogen levels over time, especially in the menopausal transition.

Who Gets Hot Flashes?

There are a variety of factors that can make a woman more prone to hot flashes. These include:

  • Genetics: Genetics can help predict who will or will not have hot flashes. If your mother had hot flashes, it’s likely you will, too.
  • Race: African American women are more likely to have them than other women.
  • Lifestyle: Hot flashes are more common in women who are overweight, smoke or do not exercise regularly.
  • Diet: Spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol can trigger hot flashes.

When to See a Doctor

If hot flashes interfere with your quality of life or your ability to participate in normal daily activities, you should consult your physician or women’s health care provider for treatment options.

If you suffer from night sweats, for example, we advise you seek treatment. Hot flashes and night sweats are basically the same thing, but night sweats cause a woman to wake up during the night with the bed soaked with sweat. If this happens on a regular basis, you are not getting the quality, deep sleep you need, and you can suffer from pronounced mood changes, depression or even memory loss.

Cooling Off or Making it Stop!

There are many remedies floating about in social media for managing hot flashes. One rumored remedy, a peppermint spray, is supposed to have a cooling effect that can help with hot flashes.

“Most women are able to gain some control of their hot flashes with minor changes in their daily lifestyle. Sipping on a cool drink, relaxing, meditating, and slow deep breathing can help keep core body temperature low,” said Dr. Shah.

Simple daily changes include:

  • Keep the room temperature low
  • Utilize fans for a cool breeze
  • Wear layers to make it easier to remove some when hot and add some when cold
  • Decrease known triggers, such as spicy food and caffeine

If the hot flashes are bothersome on a regular basis and those changes aren’t helping, there are other remedies to try.

Other forms of lifestyle changes women can make include:

  • Weight loss
  • Vitamin E supplements
  • Hypnosis or natural supplements

If you suffer from more serious cases of hot flashes, your physician may prescribe hormone therapy that includes estrogen. It is important, however, to talk to your health care provider about your individual situation to find the treatment options that are the best fit for you. For example, women who have had a hysterectomy, and no longer have a uterus, can take estrogen alone. Women who still have their uterus should take estrogen with another hormone, progesterone, to protect the lining of the uterus from cancer. Women who have a history of blood clots or have had breast cancer should not take estrogen. If a woman can’t use estrogen hormone therapy, your doctor may consider antidepressants as some can help reduce hot flashes as well.

Each of the drug treatments to treat hot flashes does have side effects, so women should discuss options with their physician. For many women, however, the benefit may outweigh the risk if hot flashes are impacting your daily activities and sleep patterns.

“Although so many women experience hot flashes or night sweats, not all women talk to their medical provider about options for treatment,” said Dr. Shah. “Most hot flashes in women are attributed to the menopausal transition, but it is important for your medical provider to rule out any other possible causes of the symptoms, like medications or other medical issues.”

Schedule a visit with a doctor today.

For more information on coping with menopause, read Menopause: How to Maintain the Joy and Pleasure in Life by Addressing Symptoms.

This post has been updated. It was originally published on September 27, 2016.

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3 Comments

  • Carol Borba says:
    I went through menopause in 1993-1994 and I'm still having hot flashes. I was taking estrogen which caused me to have breast cancer.  My Dr says I'm having post menopausal hot flashes, is this really possible ?
  • Kristina Kastner says:
    60% of women may experience hot flashes however they also experience them at different levels.  My hot flashes started in my late 40s and they were so bad that it was impossible to sleep and I had to bring extra clothes to work.  It was difficult to get my primary or OBGYN to take them seriously.  They gave me the rhetoric of exercising, eating healthy, etc.  At that point in my life I was an avid runner, 115 lbs, ate healthy and avoided sugar and simple carbs (and I still am today 12 yrs later).  The medical profession tends to blame obesity or a unhealthy life style because it is easier than coming up with a real solution.  I finally had to demand to go on hormones or I would change physicians.  Physicians should ask more questions, know your patient, respect that a patient knows their body, and don't opt for the easy answer.
  • Judith Fisher says:
    Please speak about men having hot flashes and how to deal with them.

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