Of all the symptoms of menopause, hot flashes are probably the most uncomfortable one. Not that the other symptoms are any pleasure to deal with. They include night sweats, irregular periods, decreased libido and vaginal dryness, insomnia, mood swings and others.
Women who experience hot flashes have a feeling of intense heat that has nothing to do with the room or outside temperature. Some may also experience a faster heartbeat, sweating, tingling in their fingers, a sudden onset of warmth on the skin, facial flushing or turning red, and others.
While some hot flashes last only a few seconds, others can last more than 10 minutes. The average, however, is around four minutes. Their frequency can occur anywhere from several episodes each week to several episodes every hour. It depends on the individual, and whether the treatments they’re undergoing or the changes in lifestyle they’re attempting are helping.
What Causes Hot Flashes?
The main cause is a drop in estrogen in the body. As women grow older, their ovaries slow the production of estrogen and gradually stop. To properly diagnose whether you’re experiencing menopause, your healthcare provider may have you get a blood test to determine the estrogen levels in your body.
While a decrease of estrogen is the primary cause, many different types of events can trigger hot flashes. These include drinking alcohol, drink or eating products with high levels of caffeine, spicy foods, spending time in a hot room, smoking and others. Stress is also a big trigger for many women.
The best way to determine what is triggering your hot flashes is to keep a journal of what you’re eating and what you’re doing when the hot flashes begin. That way you’ll have a record of what could be triggering your hot flashes, and can help you avoid some of the triggers in the future.
Treating Hot Flashes
There is no miracle medication to eliminate hot flashes from your life. There are some things you can do to help relieve the symptoms of menopause, like sipping ice water when the symptoms begin, wearing cooler clothing, keeping an ice pack by your bed, and avoiding spicy foods.
To really treat the problem, you should discuss the benefits of hormone replacement therapy for menopause with your healthcare provider. While there are some non-hormonal treatments, many women don’t find them very helpful.
Other women try alternative therapies, like acupuncture. Still, others try meditation to use relaxation techniques to minimize the effects of hot flashes. And there are also lifestyle changes people try including exercise programs, eating a well-balanced diet and smoking cessation.
But there is no substitute for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat menopause at its cause. In addition to estrogen, many doctors also prescribe progestin as part of their treatment. It all depends on what you’re experiencing – how frequently the symptoms affect you, and how severe the symptoms are.
If sleeping has become impossible due to night sweats or insomnia, or you’re constantly sweating and feeling uncomfortable, estrogen replacement therapy may be the best course of treatment. HRT for women is both safe and effective when prescribed and monitored by an experienced physician specializing in hormone therapy.
Image Credit: Sodanie Chea | Flickr