Menopause Symptoms: Hot Flushes
Most Women Will Experience Hot Flushes When Going Through Menopause.
Hot flushes and sweats (vasomotor symptoms) are the most common symptoms of the menopause and can affect a large percentage of women. Characterised by sudden feelings of heat which seem to come from nowhere and spread upwards through the body, the chest, neck and face, hot flushes and sweats are probably caused by changes in hormone levels which affect the body’s temperature control. They’re often described as a sudden feeling of heat that seems to come from nowhere and spreads throughout the body. You might also experience sweating, palpitations, and flushing of the face. Some women only have occasional hot flushes that don’t really bother them, while others can have many a day, and find them uncomfortable, disruptive and embarrassing. Hot flushes can start a few months or years before your periods stop (before you start the menopause), and usually continue for several years after your last period.
Hot flushes usually affect women who are approaching the menopause and are thought to be caused by changes in your hormone levels affecting your body’s temperature control. They can happen without warning throughout the day and night, but can also be triggered by:
- Eating certain foods – such as spicy foods or those containing monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Drinking alcohol or coffee
- Wearing woolly jumpers – especially polo necks
- Feeling stressed
- Anxiety or a panic disorder
- Treatment for certain types of cancer (this can affect both men and women)
- Certain medications
- Some health conditions – such as an overactive thyroid, diabetes, tuberculosis and certain types of cancer.
Hot flushes associated with the menopause can occur at any time. Some women experience these as the main symptom of menopause. Others sail through the menopause without problems, experiencing hot flushes at the time of their last period. For a few, symptoms can continue for years beyond the end of menstruation. Hot flushes are usually harmless. But you should talk to your GP if you’re having other symptoms as well, such as feeling generally unwell, fatigue, weakness, weight loss or diarrhea. Women often describe a hot flush as a creeping feeling of intense warmth that quickly spreads across your whole body and face “right up to your brow”.
During and after a hot flush some women experience headaches, shaking and dizziness. These physical symptoms can compound psychological symptoms such as feelings of anxiety, depression and lack of confidence. It typically lasts for several minutes. Others say the warmth is similar to the sensation of being under a sun bed, or feeling hot “like a furnace”.
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All women learn to live with menopause-related hot flushes, but if they’re really bothering you and interfering with your day to day life, talk to your GP about treatments that may help. The most effective treatment for hot flushes is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which usually completely gets rid of them.
Your doctor can talk to you about the benefits you’ve had a type of cancer that’s sensitive to hormones, such as breast cancer, your doctor won’t recommend HRT and will talk to you about alternatives.
Other medicines have been shown to help, including vitamin E supplements, some antidepressants, and a drug called gabapentin, which is usually used to treat seizures. You can try these tips to ease your symptoms:
- Cut out or reduce coffee and tea
- Stop smokingKeep the room cool and use a fan (electric or handheld) if necessary
- If you feel a flush coming on, spray your face with cool water or use a cold gel pack (available from pharmacies)
- Wear loose layers of light cotton or silk clothes so you can easily take some clothes off if you overheat
- Have layers of sheets on the bed rather than a duvet so you can remove them as you need to
- Cut down on alcohol
- Sip cold or iced drinks
- Have a lukewarm shower or bath instead of a hot one
- If medicine is causing your hot flushes, talk to your doctor about other ways you can take it to avoid this side effect.
Women often turn to complementary therapies as a “natural” way to treat their hot flushes. There have been small studies indicating that acupuncture, soy, black cohosh, red clover, pine bark supplement, folic acid, and evening primrose oil may help reduce hot flushes.
It’s important to talk to your doctor before you take a complementary therapy because it may have side effects (for example, liver damage has been reported with black cohosh) or mix badly with other medicines you’re taking (women taking anticoagulants shouldn’t take red clover). Be aware, too, that soy and red clover contain plant oestrogens so may be unsafe for women who have had breast cancer.