Hot flashes during menopause are both common and irritating. No definitive medical cause has been determined. Ranging from mild warmth to intense heat, hot flashes can leave you red-faced, sweaty and exhausted if they disrupt sleeping patterns. Treatments range from hormone replacement therapy and drugs to homeopathic remedies and lifestyle changes.
Hormone Replacement Therapies
Hormone replacement therapy is usually considered for treatment when the hot flashes are moderate to intense. Your doctor may recommend either estrogen or progesterone therapy. Women with intact reproductive organs generally receive both to protect them from developing endometrial cancer. Progesterone is given alone when estrogen cannot be taken due health risks. An increased risk of heart disease exists when choosing hormone replacement therapy and should be considered along with family history, your own reproductive history and the duration of the treatments before choosing this option. Estrogen is not recommended for women with a history of breast cancer or blood clots.
There are several prescription medications used in association with symptoms of menopause, although the FDA has not specifically approved them for the treatment of hot flashes. Antidepressants from two classes of pharmaceuticals (SSRIs and SNRIs) do help relieve hot flashes but not as effectively as hormone replacement therapy. Negative side effects may include weight gain, queasiness and light-headedness. Gabapentin, a pain medication, has shown moderate success in treating hot flashes, particularly those that occur at night. In addition to light-headedness and queasiness, side effects may include headaches. Clonidine is most commonly used to treat sufferers of high blood pressure but produces slight relief from hot flashes. Side effects include several already mentioned in addition to sleepiness, constipation and dry mouth.
Some changes in your lifestyle and daily routine may help reduce the risk of hot flashes. Hot flashes seem to occur in response to triggers such as changes in your temperature. Layering your clothing allows you to add or remove clothing when you start to feel changes starting. Air flow created by an open window, fan or air conditioner will help keep you feeling cooler. Drinking a cool beverage may be enough to stop or diminish the onset of a hot flash. Other triggers include spicy food, caffeine, stress and alcohol. Smoking is also an identified trigger. Consider giving up some of these or limit them to the greatest extent possible.
Overweight women have a higher recurrence of hot flashes than do those with a lower BMI. African-American women are more prone to experiencing hot flashes than women of other ethnic backgrounds. Sedentary lifestyles also increase the risk of experiencing hot flashes. Consider exercise and weight loss to reduce your risk and frequency of hot flashes. Deep-breathing exercises practiced twice a day for 15 minutes can reduce the frequency of hot flashes by about 40 percent and reduce intensity if performed at the onset of the hot flash.
A number of herbal supplements have proven effective in treating hot flashes. Black cohosh is taken in doses of 10-15 drops twice daily. Motherwort is taken in doses of 10-25 drops, one to six times a day. Both provide relief from hot flashes. As with prescription medications or any other covered treatments, the potential side effects or risks should be discussed with your doctor.