Turn down the heat: Facts about hot flashes

Woman with hot flush drinking water

It’s hard to feel empathy for a woman who suffers from hot flashes.

That is unless you too have had your temperature spike to surface-of-the-sun heat in mere seconds. And you have that experience over and over, day and night.

A hot flash is a physical phenomenon hard to imagine or describe. Having your “own personal summer” is a lonely experience.

Banner Health OB/Gyn Jo Ann Hawthorne, MD, of Wheatland, Wyo., says that hot flashes are normal and happen to about 60 percent 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. They are often related to changes in hormone levels.

Who Gets Hot Flashes?

  • Genetics can help predict who will or will not have hot flashes. If your mother had hot flashes, it’s likely you will, too.
  • African American women are more likely to have them than other women.
  • Consider lifestyle factors. Hot flashes are more common in women who are overweight or who smoke.
  • Spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol can bring on hot flashes.

The message Dr. Hawthorne shares with patients is that, if hot flashes interfere with your quality of life or the ability for you to participate in normal daily activities, you should consult your physician or women’s health care provider for treatment options.

An example of when to seek treatment is when a woman suffers from night sweats. Hot flashes and night sweats are basically the same thing. A woman will wake up at night with the bed soaked from sweating.

“The worst thing about that is the loss of quality sleep,” Dr. Hawthorne said.

“When this happens on a regular basis, you’re not getting the deep sleep you need and you can suffer from pronounced mood changes, depression or even memory loss.”

Cooling Off or Make it Stop!

There are many other remedies floated about in social media and social circles. One rumored remedy, a peppermint spray, is supposed to have a cooling effect that helps with hot flashes. There is also a peppermint roll-on gel, if you don’t mind smelling like a stick of gum.

Many remedies fail, though. Dr. Hawthorne suggested keeping your overall core body temperature cool by sipping on a cool drink, relaxing, meditating and breathing deeply and slowly. Other lifestyle change options for beating the heat include exercise, stopping smoking, limiting caffeine and alcohol among others.

Estrogen is one of the most common drug treatments to manage hot flashes. Physicians also prescribe antidepressants. Women who have had a hysterectomy (and no longer have a uterus) can take estrogen alone, Dr. Hawthorne said. 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.

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

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