Hot flashes don’t occur because something exciting is happening to you during your menopause and postmenopausal years. Hot flashes can spontaneously erupt at any time and often at the worst of times:
- you are attempting to dry your hair and the hot flash starts, making you sweat and keeping your scalp and hair wet no matter what!
- you are in a deep sleep, then suddenly awakened because your nightclothes and sheets are soaking wet;
- you are about to walk to the podium and give a talk; your heart begins to race and you break out in a sweat—not because of the talk or the audience—it’s a damn hot flash.
Hot flashes happen during menopause. They occur in 75 % of women and in some cultures more than others. Studies have found that Japanese and Chinese women do not as frequently report suffering from hot flashes; African American women report the nuisance more frequently when compared to Caucasian women.
- Obese women, those with a high body mass index, are more likely to have hot flashes.
- Smoking increases a woman’s risk of having hot flashes.
- 20% of women with hot flashes seek help from their healthcare provider.
- Hot flashes are most common in the transition from late menopause to post-menopause.
- Hot flashes usually resolve in one to five years without treatment, though some women experience them after the age of 70!
- Typically you feel a sudden sensation of heat that it centered in the upper chest and face. Quickly it becomes more generalized and can last from 2-4 minutes.
- Often women perspire like crazy and some have heart palpitations. Shivering and chills can follow the hot flash.
- Hot flashes are often accompanied by a feeling of anxiety.
- Though particularly common at night (isn’t that fun!) hot flashes can occur several times a day. In some women they range from 1-2 a day, or as many as one per hour during the day or night.
Some women who have been taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have no trouble stopping estrogen and experience few to no hot flashes. Others, especially women who started HRT because of severe hot flashes, find stopping estrogen very difficult. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) suggests the extension of hormone therapy may be needed for some women who decide that the symptom relief outweighs the possible risks of continuing estrogen. Your doctor needs to talk to you during this decision process. A recent Scientific Statement of the Endocrine Society states the risks and benefits of hormone therapy for five years in women ages 50-59. These guidelines will help you and your doctor decide what is best for you.
For mild hot flash symptoms NAMS recommends lifestyle changes like attempting to keep the core body temperature cool and doing regular exercise. Nonprescription therapies such as soy foods, isoflavone supplements (from either soy or red clover), black cohosh, or vitamin E are also suggested. But no clinical trial data supports the efficacy of any of these. Also, soy foods, isoflavone supplements and black cohosh can be like taking estrogen and therefore have estrogenic effects on the breast—a side effect. If you are considering using any alternative therapies, it is always a good idea to discuss what you are doing with your doctor.
A close friend of mine who has multiple hot flashes a day keeps simple paddle fans in the rooms of her home. That’s one suggestion that has no side effect. She’s a chick who just wants to stay cool.
PS After my friend read my post she sent this: