Hot flashes are the most frequent symptom of menopause and perimenopause. Hot flashes happen in more than two-thirds of North American women during perimenopause and almost all women with induced menopause or premature menopause.
What Is a Hot Flash?
A hot flash, sometimes called a hot flush, is a quick feeling of heat and sometimes a red, flushed face and sweating. The exact cause of hot flashes is not known, but may be related to changes in circulation.
A hot flush is a hot flash plus redness in the face and neck.
How Long Will I Have Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes vary among women going through menopause. Some women have hot flashes for a very short time during menopause. Other women may have hot flashes for life. Generally, hot flashes are less severe as time passes.
Can I Prevent Hot Flashes?
You probably can't avoid hot flashes during menopause, but there are things that may bring them on more often or cause them to be more severe. To prevent hot flashes, avoid these triggers:
- Spicy foods
- Tight clothing
- Cigarette smoke
Other things you can do to keep hot flashes at bay include:
- Stay cool. Keep your bedroom cool at night. Use fans during the day. Wear light layers of clothes with natural fibers such as cotton.
- Try deep, slow abdominal breathing (six to eight breaths per minute). Practice deep breathing for 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the evening and at the onset of hot flashes.
- Exercise daily. Walking, swimming, dancing, and bicycling are all good choices.
- Try chill pillows. Cooler pillows to lay your head on at night might be helpful.
Talk to your doctor about taking hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, for a short time -- less than 5 years. This treatment prevents hot flashes in many women. Plus, it can help other symptoms of menopause, including vaginal dryness and mood disorders. Keep in mind that when you stop taking HRT, the hot flashes may come back. Short-term HRT carries some risks, including blood clots and gallbladder inflammation. If HRT is not right for you, there are other treatments that may offer relief. It is important to clear any new drugs (including over-the-counter) or supplements with your doctor before taking them.
Nonprescription treatments include:
Prescription treatments include:
- Low-dose depression drugs like fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), or venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Clonidine, a blood pressure medication
- Gabapentin, an antiseizure drug
- Brisdelle, a paroxetine formula specifically for hot flashes
- Duavee, a conjugated estrogens/bazedoxifene formula designed to treat hot flashes
Are There Alternative Therapies to Relieve Hot Flashes?
Although some alternative therapies like botanical and herbal therapies have shown promise for relieving menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, more research is needed.
Because botanicals and herbs may have side effects or interact with other medications, it is important to talk to with your doctor before taking any of these products. Also, the manufacturing of these supplements is not regulated, leading to the possibility of taking too much or too little.
Botanicals and herbs that may help relieve hot flashes include:
- Soy products. Plant estrogens, found in soy products, are thought to have weak estrogen-like effects that may reduce hot flashes. Soy foods, not supplements, are recommended.
- Black cohosh. Some studies suggest that black cohosh may be helpful in the very short term (6 months or less) for treating hot flashes and night sweats. Side effects include gastrointestinal upset.
- Evening primrose oil is another botanical that is often used to treat hot flashes, although there is no scientific evidence to support this. Side effects include nausea and diarrhea. Women taking certain medications, such as blood thinners, should not take evening primrose oil.
- Flaxseed. Although there is no scientific evidence to support using flaxseed, it is thought to decrease the symptoms of menopause, particularly hot flashes. It's also known as linseed.
Be sure to talk to your doctor before you take any medications to relieve hot flashes. Also, keep in mind that your hot flashes may be temporary. You may be able to manage without any treatment.