If you are a woman in midlife and everyone else around you is wearing a sweater but you’re down to a tank top and sweating beads wondering if you’re going through menopause, then keep on reading, girlfriend. Hot flashes are one of the hallmarks of menopause. In fact, eight out of 10 American women suffer from hot flashes when they ride the menopause train. They are the most common menopause symptom and “hot flash” is not surprisingly the most frequent search term used in Google.
Women who experience abrupt menopause when their ovaries are surgically removed often suffer severe hot flashes that start right after surgery and typically last longer than those in women who undergo natural menopause. Most women experience hot flashes for 6 months to 2 years, although some studies suggest that the average period is as long as 3 to 5 years. In some women, hot flashes linger for 10 years or more, and older women are known to have occasional hot flashes.
The Start of a Spark
Although their exact cause isn’t fully understood, hot flashes are believed to result in changes in the hypothalamus, a small region in the brain that regulates body temperature. It is thought that as hormones fluctuate, the hypothalamus mistakenly senses that a woman is too warm so it signals the body to cool down by enlarging the blood vessels to increase blood flow to the surface of the skin to release body heat. This is why your skin may look red and flushed while having a hot flash. Your skin may also sweat as an attempt to cool down. Some hot flashes are easily tolerated, others are annoying or embarrassing, and others can be debilitating.
During a hot flash, you might have:
• A sudden feeling of warmth radiating through your face and upper body
• Warm skin and perspiration
• Rapid heartbeat
• A flushed appearance with red or pink, blotchy skin
• A chill as the hot flash passes
• Night sweats, this is what happens when you have a hot flash while sleeping
• Spicy foods
• Wearing tight clothing
Hot flashes can also be caused an overactive thyroid and by certain medications including some antidepressants, breast cancer, and osteoporosis drugs. Waking up at night in sweat has also been associated with HIV, tuberculosis, and certain cancers. Your medical provider can rule out these causes.
Don’t smoke or it will set you on fire. If you don’t have enough reasons to quit smoking, here’s one more. Smoking may make your hot flashes worse.
Exercise daily. Women who lead a sedentary life seem to suffer more from hot flashes.
Cut back on caffeine. Since the world’s most popular drug raises the heart rate, which increases the speed of blood pumping through the body, it can set your internal thermostat even higher and may make hot flashes even worse.
Food remedies. Some research suggests that phytoestrogens, which are plants with estrogen-like effects in the body, can help reduce hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. Examples of plant estrogens include: soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, flaxseed, grains, beans, fruits, red clover and some vegetables. In general, soybeans, chickpeas, and lentils are considered to have the most powerful plant estrogens, though their effect is much less than that of human estrogen.
Deep, paced breathing. When you feel a hot flash coming, take slow, deep breaths to help put yourself into a more relaxed state. You should breathe deeply enough until you feel your diaphragm (the muscular wall beneath your lungs) moving up and down, filling up your lungs completely and then emptying completely. Try taking one deep breath while counting to 4 and then breathe out while counting to 4. You can do this anywhere without anyone knowing so don’t worry if you feel silly doing it.
• Black Cohosh
• St. John’s Wort
• Vitamin E