Menopause Infographic – Hot Flashes

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Are you experiencing your own internal heat wave? Do you wake up at least once during the night in a sweat? Do you have to get out of bed, towel off, change clothes and then try to get back to sleep, only to experience a repeat performance? Do you have to prod your partner to move over a bit to avoid sleeping in the “wet spot.” (No, not the fun one.) Do your nights of interrupted sleep seem endless?  If so, you’re not alone, and this is not being caused by global warming.

According to the North American Menopause Society, about 75 percent of women report perimenopausal symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes. If you’re one of them, you know it’s more than a seasonal heat wave. And you know that the symptoms — a flushed face, drenching sweat and rapid heart rate — will only be compounded as the numbers on the thermostat continue to climb. Before you move to the North Pole, let’s examine this common symptom a bit further.

What exactly is a hot flash?

During perimenopause and menopause, the body’s  levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone begin to fluctuate. When estrogen levels go down, they can trigger your body’s thermostat to send a signal that you are overheated. This causes your body to send out an all hands on deck alert: your heart pumps faster, the blood vessels in your skin dilate to circulate more blood to radiate heat, and your sweat glands release sweat to cool you even more. Like so much about the process of menopause, there is no “one size fits all” for the timing, duration, frequency or pattern of menopausal hot flashes.

So what does this hormonal meltdown feel like?

You may experience one or more of these:

  • flashes of heat spreading over your skin
  • skin flushed red or blotchy
  • racing heartbeat like you’ve just run a 100-yard dash
  • sweating a lot
  • dizziness

These episodes:

  • last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes
  • occurring in upper or lower body
  • occur during the day and/or night (night sweats)
  • are infrequent (several per month) to frequent (several per hour)
  • are followed by a feeling of being cold and clammy once the hot flash has passed

Fortunately, there are lots of options for treating hot flashes beyond wearing easy-to-strip-off layers, or attaching a small fan to your forehead. Since every woman is different, you will have to explore which options work best for you with your menopause specialist.

Options needing prescriptions:  

  • Hormone Therapy
  • Selective serotonin and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs). These drugs are often prescript for the treatment of depression and anxiety, but they also can work in alleviating hot flashes and night sweats.

Non prescription options:

It’s helpful to be aware of some of the typical hot flash instigators. You can try eliminating these triggers one at a time to see if that helps alleviate your symptoms. For example, reduce your alcohol intake and caffeine (especially before bed), and cut back on spicy foods. All of these things may increase or worsen hot flashes.

Try a Mediterranean Diet.  According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, menopausal women who most closely follow a diet rich in produce, pasta, and red wine are about 20 percent less likely to suffer hot flashes and night sweats.  (This isn’t an excuse to rush out and eat a huge plate of spaghetti! I don’t know about you, but fusilli doesn’t look so good on my hips.)

Acupuncture, yoga, and meditation may also help.

Soy, anyone?  There is lots of conflicting information about soy. I spoke to Dr. Gordon Saxe, M.D., Ph.D., Research Director and Preventive Medicine Physician at the UCSD Center for Integrative Medicine and co-developer and Medical Director of the UCSD Natural Healing & Cooking Program, and got the skinny on soy! If you are interested in integrating soy into your diet, take the time to read my two interviews with him: Part I and Part II.

Some women find help with black cohosh. You can find this ingredient in Remifemin, an over-the-counter product available at many pharmacies. Dr. Elena Ratner, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale Cancer Center, recommended it to her breast cancer patient Vicki, whose treatment threw her into menopause. “Hot flashes started full on for me … and I immediately went on Remifemin…. The hot flashes are about 98 percent gone.”

As of 2014, we have a new product that has come to the U.S. called Relizen, which is made in Sweden from pollen extract and has been used successfully in Europe for more than 15 years.

Exercising increases your endorphin levels, usually adding to a feeling of well-being; it also helps reduce stress levels and supports general wellness. Any of the typical remedies for de-stressing your life, like biofeedback and even massage, might help keep those temperature spikes under control.

“All exercise, ranging from housework to running marathons, impacts menopause in a positive way,” says Dr. Diana Bitner, MD, a North American Menopause Society Certified Menopause Practitioner & Physician and board-certified OB/GYN. “My patients who exercise on a regular basis have fewer menopause symptoms as well as improved body chemistry—lower cholesterol, better sugar control, less weight gain, and stronger bones. Women who exercise have better sleep, better mood, and better quality of life.”

The reason: “A higher body mass index (BMI) as well as a higher body fat percentage both increase hot flashes and night sweats in menopause, lead to poor sleep, low energy, bad moods, and can cause a poor self-image,” Dr. Bitner says. “I talk to my patients about belly fat as a furnace that makes them hot and tired.” So get rid of it!

Remember, when you find yourself going from 0 to 90 (degrees) in 30 seconds, keep a cool head, call your menopause specialist, and don’t sweat it! Relief is on the way!

Click here to download my free eBook, MENOPAUSE MONDAYS: The Girlfriend’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving During Perimenopause and Menopause

After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

  • It pisses me off that it still goes on way after menopause sets in – still getting hormone crap & I read in your book that some women have episodes forever – UGH!!!!

    • Ellen Dolgen

      Jody…if you don’t want to take hormone therapy….give that Remifemin a try. It is black cohosh and is highly recommended by oncologists at the Yale Cancer Center.

  • I think that it is always best to have multiple solutions at your disposal. Certainly diet, and medications have a positive impact; cooling pads, beads and clothing help as well; nevertheless, sometimes nothing beats a soothing stream of air when you need it. That’s why our BlowMeCool mini-fan was made so small and powerful. It is easy to keep it with you to help sooth, cool and dry whenever you need it! Try it – you’ll like.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      Yes a fan is always a great thing to have in your purse!

  • Linda

    OMG!!! Those nasty hot stinkin flashes! What helped was the black cohosh at first and NO wine sipping anymore for this Italian… I’m telling you one sip and poof! Fireball! Then the thing that ended them was going on Thyroid hormone–T4T3 from a compounding pharmacy. Prior to getting all these ducks in a cool row I was having hot flashes every 15 min. It really is exhausting and what I can’t understand is with all that extra heat and sweating why are there not more calories being burned??!! Anyway the blow me cool fan is awesome, and yes Ellen, if I could have I would’ve straped it to my forehead!! LOL!!!

    • Ellen Dolgen

      Haha! Yes, too bad strapping those Blow Me Cool fans on our foreheads is not a good look! We would all have one in every color! Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

  • Susan

    Intercourse is unbearable for me. My husband and I have not had it in a very very long time the last time we did I was in pain for hours afterward. My primary dr recommended an oral prescription but cautioned me that there was risks involved like cancer. I didn’t take it. I’m very frustrated and my marriage is suffering.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      Susan, speak to your doctor about LET (local estrogen therapy). This is delivered directly into the vagina and it usually works like a dream – and very quickly! Good Luck and keep me posted!

  • Dear Ellen,

    Can I send you some of our new formula Crila® for you to test with a couple of readers who are tough cases? Give me an address and I’ll send it. The last NAMS conference presented, then published, UIC’s results that Crila® is estrogen free; and we expect some further good news later this year.

    Although not directly related to menopause, I your blog this Monday will mention the letter from 12 members of Congress to the GAO calling for investigation of morcellation. This tragedy has cost the lives of too many unsuspecting women. If there is any way for you and I to have a private chat about fibroids, I’d welcome the chance to give you some information on the clinical trial on Crila® for uterine health.

    With kind regards,

    Sue

    • Ellen Dolgen

      Thanks for stopping by, Sue. I have reported on the news regarding morcellation in the past….you can find one of my Health News Flashes here. I am not familiar with Crila. What is the primary ingredient? Are there trials on humans?