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Coping with Hot Flashes & Finding Relief

By Kristy Warren

Hot flashes are a common part of perimenopause and menopause, but how to cope isn't always common knowledge. Learn how to find relief when you're feeling the heat, and when you should see a doctor. 

FIRST THINGS FIRST: HOT FLASHES AREN’T LIMITED TO MENOPAUSE.

Many women are surprised to learn that one of the most common hallmarks of menopause—the hot flash—can arrive years before “the change” takes place.

As women grow older, they enter perimenopause, also known as “the transition,” when their bodies naturally transition out of their reproductive years and fully into menopause (when periods stop completely).

When a woman has gone a full year without having her period, she has officially reached menopause.

Woman experiencing a hot flash

HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M EXPERIENCING PERIMENOPAUSE?

Perimenopause can surface years before actually reaching menopause, commonly appearing when a woman reaches her forties, but sometimes as early as her mid-thirties.

It marks a decline in ovary function, when your body stops producing as much estrogen.

There are a variety of symptoms associated with this transition, but one of the biggest indicators is when your menstrual cycle becomes irregular.

Your cycle may become shorter or longer than before, the flow much lighter or heavier than usual, and you may skip some periods entirely.

Common symptoms of perimenopause:

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flashes
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mood changes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Changes in arousal and desire

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO REACH MENOPAUSE?

That answer is different for every woman. The transition into menopause can last anywhere from a few months to nearly a decade. The average transition time is 3 to 5 years.

Some women may experience few symptoms during this time, while others may experience heavy, erratic periods and intense hot flashes that require treatment.

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH HOT FLASHES ANYWAY?

Hot flashes, given the scientific name “vasomotor symptoms” can be caused by several medical conditions, but are most commonly associated with perimenopause and menopause.

They are tied to changes in estrogen, but the process is complex, and doctors aren’t sure exactly why some women experience them more often and intensely than others—and why some women don’t seem to experience them at all.

Most American women do experience hot flashes.

Woman suffering night sweats

During a hot flash, you may feel a sudden, intense flush of heat particularly in your face, chest, and upper body. You may also experience sweating, a faster heartbeat, red or blotchy skin, and feel chilled as the hot flash dies down.

Hot flashes may last less than minute or up to ten. You may go days or weeks without one, or have several in one hour. How often you experience them and how they feel may evolve with time, too.

 

HANDLING THE DREADED HOT FLASH

If you’ve ever had a hot flash, you know they aren’t fun. They can lead to insomniac nights, chills, and sweaty clothes. You may be fine one minute, then feel like a furnace or sauna the next. Since there’s no telling when you may have one, you may wonder how you can manage them.

Here are some tips for managing hot flashes:

  • Learn your triggers and avoid them. Spicy food, hot beverages like coffee or tea, heavy clothes, and warm temperatures can all trigger hot flashes. Learn what affects you and make adjustments accordingly like swapping out hot coffee for iced coffee.
  • Breathe deep. Deep breathing and meditation have been shown to lower the number of hot flashes experienced.
  • Dress in layers. Being able to quickly layer down or up based on the abrupt heat or subsequent chills can get you back to a comfortable temperature faster.
  • Exercise, eat well, and maintain a healthy weight. Science indicates that activity, eating enough fruits and veggies, and maintaining a healthy weight help keep hot flashes in check.
  • Reduce stress. Manage your stress through what works for you: relaxation techniques, laughter, quiet time, music, yoga, or simply a little “me time.” Keeping stress down can stave off hot flashes.
  • Get enough sleep. Carving out a full night’s rest can be challenging, but proper rest reduces hot flashes. Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, as routine can help your body get a better night’s sleep.
  • Talk to your doctor. If the hot flashes become too much, you may require medication to manage your symptoms. Don't be afraid to ask.

Summary: When it comes to managing hot flashes, when it doubt, keep it cool. Try iced coffee or tea, layers, relaxed breathing, stress reduction techniques, and watch the spice.

 

WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR

For many women, hot flashes are just an inconvenience to be managed, but for some, they become a serious condition that impacts their physical and emotional well-being. If you are struggling with hot flashes and other perimenopause or menopause symptoms, call your doctor.

There are a variety of safe treatments available, ranging from topical gels and patches to medications and lifestyle changes to help better manage your symptoms.

Don’t suffer in silence. If you are in need of a doctor to discuss your symptoms, please call the Laurel Health Centers at 1-833-LAURELHC or click here visit our provider page.

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