If you’re approaching menopause, odds are good that you’ve experienced hot flashes or night sweats. “About 75 to 80% of women experience hot flashes during this transition,” said Pooja Shah, MD, an OBGYN at Banner Health Center in Chandler, AZ.
Hot flashes crop up when you’re going through menopause because the decline in your estrogen levels makes it harder for your body to regulate its temperature. You might notice them years before your last menstrual period, which is typically around age 50.
“Women with hot flashes have different symptoms and different treatment needs,” Dr. Shah said. You could have mild, occasional hot flashes or night sweats that subside quickly without treatment. But, on the other side of the spectrum, hot flashes can be frequent and bothersome. You could feel intense heat on your face, neck and chest. You may look flushed and may perspire, and in some instances, you might have a rapid heartbeat and feel anxious.
Hot flashes can last up to five minutes, and you might have them every day. So, they can disrupt your work or daily activities. Night sweats—hot flashes that occur when you’re sleeping—can wake you up drenched in sweat and can keep you from getting the restful sleep you need.
Here’s what could make it more likely you’ll have hot flashes
You might be more prone to hot flashes as you approach menopause if:
- Your mother had hot flashes
- You’re overweight, you smoke or you don’t exercise regularly
- You consume spicy foods, caffeine or alcohol
Here are some lifestyle changes that could help with hot flashes
Dr. Pooja recommends starting with behavioral modifications to treat your hot flashes:
- Dress in layers so you can quickly adjust if you feel a hot flash coming on
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
- Use a fan
- Lower the temperature of your house
- Avoid triggers like spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol and hot baths
- Lose weight
Here are some treatments that could help with hot flashes
There’s not a single treatment plan that works for everyone with hot flashes. If lifestyle changes don’t bring relief, there are other options you can try:
- Non-hormonal prescription medications such as Effexor, gabapentin or clonidine
- Natural supplements such as black cohosh, isoflavones or plant estrogens
- Vitamin E supplements
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Mindfulness training, meditation or slow, deep breathing
Studies of these treatments have shown varying results. If you’re interested in trying them, talk through the pros and cons with your health care provider.
Sometimes all the options above are just not enough to help relieve the hot flashes. Prescription hormonal therapy works well for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Depending on your medical history, you could take either a combination of estrogen and progesterone or an estrogen-only version. These can be in the form of creams, patches or pills.
Situations like having had a hysterectomy or removal of your ovaries, a history of cancer, a high risk for blood clots or a reaction to hormones in the past will impact the type of hormone therapy you can have. Your health care provider can help you decide on the best treatment option for you.
The bottom line
It’s common for women to experience hot flashes during the menopausal transition. Treatment options for hot flashes can be effective, and you have a lot of choices beyond hormonal therapy.
“Most women with hot flashes do not seek medical care,” Dr. Shah said. But your health care provider can help you evaluate your options and find a solution that works. Reach out to Banner Health if you would like to connect with a health care provider who can help you get your hot flashes under control.