Besides giving birth, a woman’s anatomy is meant for another long-term challenge: menopause. Symptoms show up when a woman reaches her 40s or earlier, and it is a harrowing experience that undoubtedly affects the men or the other persons in her life, too.
If left unmanaged, bothersome symptoms triggered by menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats, may lead to anxiety and depression. Hence, learning how to manage the drastic physiological changes is essential to a woman, no matter her age.
Tormented by hot flashes, night sweats and other menopause-related issues? Learn more about these symptoms and discover how to manage them with these unconventional yet effective methods.
What is a hot flash?
A hot flash is a sudden surge of warmth in the upper body, usually concentrated in the face, neck and chest. Also called a hot flush, it typically comes suddenly and makes one feel like blushing and sweating. In some women, a hot flash is accompanied by rapid heartbeat and chills.
What are night sweats?
Night sweats are hot flashes that happen at night, most of the time when you’re already sleeping. Night sweats cause excessive sweating that may drench your clothes, leading to sleep disruption. It is caused by both internal and external factors, such as a hot bedroom.
What causes hot flashes or night sweats?
Hot flashes may be caused by various factors, the most common being hormonal fluctuations before, during and after menopause. The process is not completely understood yet, but researchers suspect that reduced estrogen levels result in a more sensitive hypothalamus, the gland that controls your body’s thermostat. When this gland senses your body’s temperature increasing, it attempts to cool your body down via a hot flash.
Other hot flash triggers
External factors may trigger hot flash, too. Stress, spicy foods, smoking, caffeine intake, alcohol consumption, tight clothing and ambient heat can bring about a hot flash, as do pregnancy, anxiety, bending over and other medical conditions such as an overactive or underactive thyroid glands.
What are the signs and symptoms of hot flashes?
Women may encounter the following signs and symptoms of hot flashes:
- A sudden feeling of warmth spreading through your chest, neck and face
- A flushed appearance with red, blotchy skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Perspiration, mostly on your upper body
- A chilled feeling as the hot flash lets up
- Feelings of anxiety
How long do hot flashes last?
The frequency and intensity of hot flashes vary from one woman to another. Some women report that it stays for a few seconds, while some women report having them for up to 10 minutes at a time. Some say they experience frequent flashes in a day, while others have hot flashes a few times in a week.
Hot flashes may be mild or so intense that they disturb daily activities, and they can happen at any time of the day or night.
Most women report experiencing hot flash symptoms for more than seven years, on average. It is likewise common for a woman to have hot flashes for over 10 years.
What is hormone replacement therapy (HRT)?
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment regimen that balances estrogen and progesterone levels during or prior to menopause in order to replace the hormones your body has stopped producing. Some HRT may contain both hormones, or exclusively estrogen, and some testosterone.
While it is proven to manage distracting symptoms of menopause, HRT use has raised concerns over increasing the risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke and other life-threatening conditions.
4 unusual tips for hot flashes caused by menopause
For those who are wary about using HRT, here are some lesser known methods to manage hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms:
1. Keep cool
Always take an ice pack with you whether you’re at home, in the office or just about anywhere. Here’s the best of the bunch: a facial ice mask that not only relieves hot flashes but makes your skin glow as well. Who says you can’t be gorgeous while going through menopause?
Neck ice packs like these are ultra-flexible and effectively relieves hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, as well. Place one in your office drawer or on your bedside table for easy access.
You can also use a cooling pillow to ease night sweats and get rid of sleep disruptions.
Maintaining proper ventilation and a cool room temperature are great ways to keep hot flushes away, too. So are wearing lightweight clothes made from cotton, and dressing in layers that you can easily remove when it becomes hot.
2. Load up on plant estrogen
Some women swear their hot flash attacks were reduced after increasing consumption of plant estrogens. Formally known as “phytoestrogens”, these compounds work by increasing estrogen levels in the body, although they’re far weaker than human estrogen.
Crushed flax seeds, chickpeas, lentils, beans, fruits, red clover and most vegetables are considered rich in plant estrogens.
3. Practice relaxation techniques
More than relieving pain, these strategies also claim to promote overall wellbeing. So, what could stop you from trying them out?
- Slow breathing – Paced and deep breathing uses your diaphragm, the muscles beneath your lungs. Whereas you take up to 14 breaths per minute, with paced breathing, you only perform up to seven breaths per minute.
By doing this, you are expected to minimize the stress chemicals created by your brain in order to relax. Perform breathing exercises for 15 minutes at the onset of hot flashes, or in the morning and the evening. Stop if you experience dizziness or hyperventilate.
- Yoga – Yoga is said to be effective in correcting hormonal imbalance, including menopause, according to this study. Try these poses to help ease hot flashes and other symptoms.
- Hypnosis – Apparently, you can also tap into your mind-body connection to relieve hot flashes and other symptoms, according to this study.
Hypnotherapy is widely practiced to manage medical conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, pain, gastrointestinal and skin disorders. It is also being used in patients suffering from behavioral problems, anywhere from helping one quit smoking to losing weight.
This mind-body therapy brings about guided relaxation to reach a heightened state of focus, temporarily blocking out other things that may be happening in one’s body, such as pain and anxiety.
- Start needling – If you’re not afraid of being pricked, try acupuncture. This traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for thousands of years, and is supposed to tap the body’s natural healing energies to treat various conditions. Acupuncture therapy needs a series of sessions, so the treatment might be costly for some.
4. Consider antidepressants and other medications
Who would’ve thought that hot flashes, night sweats and other menopause symptoms can be resolved by medications intended for other conditions?
- Antidepressants can ease hot flashes and other symptoms related to menopause such as mood swings, anxiety and depression. Antidepressants are known to result in low libido.
- Anti-seizure medications may be effective for menopausal women suffering from night sweats by enhancing quality sleep. More importantly, a study has shown it is as effective as estrogen replacement therapy in reducing hot flashes. Drowsiness, unsteadiness and headaches are the potential side effects.
- Blood pressure drugs may likewise be effective in treating hot flashes because there could be a link between hypertension and menopause. Just get ready to experience dizziness, constipation and dry mouth.
Herbal supplements such as evening primrose oil, black cohosh, dong quai and red clover are few of the over-the-counter supplements that have reportedly helped menopausal women with their symptoms, particularly hot flashes.
These medications have the potential to cause nausea, diarrhea and upset stomach, among others. Scientific studies regarding their efficacy are also lacking or are still being explored.
Additional tips to manage hot flashes
You can manage hot flashes further with minor lifestyle adjustments. Weight loss is an important consideration, as overweight menopausal women are likely to have more disrupting hot flashes. This is quite tricky, to tell you frankly, because menopause may cause women to gain weight.
Putting out that cigarette will have few benefits, especially during menopause. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease – pair that with menopause and your risk increases exponentially. In addition, women who are regularly smoking, overweight or live a sedentary lifestyle are at higher risk of more menacing hot flashes, too.
Avoiding caffeine, spicy foods and alcohol can also help lessen the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
Hormonal replacement therapy remains the gold standard in relieving menopause symptoms. However, HRT does come with risks and, in fact, it is thought to increase the risk of cancer, heart disease and other serious health conditions.
If you’re experiencing perimenopausal, menopausal or post menopausal symptoms, consider these unconventional yet effective methods to manage discomfort. They may work better to complement your usual therapeutic tools.