Plug in the fan, friends. It seems like hot flashes are the
curse of "the change." Estrogen therapy will help get rid of them. But
if we choose not to take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) during menopause,
how long must we put up with those unpredictable, uncomfortable sweats?
For answers, WebMD spoke with menopause specialist, Nancy
Fugate Woods, PhD, RN, dean of nursing and an epidemiologist at the University
of Washington at Seattle.
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Actually, many young women are already familiar with hot
flashes before they enter menopause, Woods tells WebMD. "Many women have
them premenstrually," she says. And more than two-thirds of women
experience hot flashes during perimenopause, the few years leading up to
menopause that can start as early as your 30s.
But once you hit your 50s and make the transition into
menopause, hot flashes will likely last two to three years. "For some
women, they can last as long as 10 years, but that is not typical," says
Woods. "In fact, a lot of women have no hot flashes at all - or they may
have 'warm spells' that they don't really think of as hot flashes. They may
think they're simply sweating because they're involved in some
Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing when they will
Hot flashes are a sudden change in the body's thermostat, the
part of the brain that regulates our body temperature. That triggers a chain of
events that can cause flushing and perspiration.
Who's most likely to get hot flashes? "Women who are
sedentary. Also, women with more body fat have more hot flashes, probably
because they are more insulated and have a difficult time losing body
heat," she says.
"You can deal with them by getting regular aerobic
exercise, doing relaxation techniques, and using what's called 'paced
breathing' [slow, deep abdominal breathing when you feel a hot flash starting]
- like you do in meditation or in labor," Woods says. "Actually, I
learned to do paced breathing and found that you can kind of stop a hot flash
with it. It's interesting how it works."
Some studies also show that other stress reduction techniques
such as massage or yoga can help.
Will hot flashes return after you go off estrogen? Possibly,
says Woods. "Doctors usually recommend going off estrogen gradually. Cut
the pills in half, take them every other day, and see how things go."
Some believe that supplements such as soy or flaxseed or black
cohosh are the answer to treat hot flashes. They may work in some women, but so
far the studies are mixed on how effective these alternatives may be.
Some doctors have tried prescribing antidepressants to quell
hot flashes -- and studies have shown that this works for women who don't want
to risk hormones after breast cancer. However, antidepressants can have their
own side effects, Woods adds.
Dressing in layers and sleeping in cooler conditions help some,
as does a cold drink of water. "Carry a bottle with you during the
day," she suggests. Also, you may have to change your tastes, since
alcohol, hot beverages, and spicy foods can set off the sweats.
Coffee can also be a problem, but Woods says, "I'm not
giving it up. I'd just as soon take the risk."
Some drugs that women take for other illnesses can also cause
Remember that not treating hot flashes is also an option, as
they typically go away on their own in time.
If you are having hot flashes and do not want to take HRT, talk
to your doctor about the options.