Eight out of 10 women experience hot flushes and night sweats around the time of the menopause, for an average of seven years.
What are hot flushes?
Hot flushes are usually described as a sudden, creeping feeling of intense warmth or heat that seems to come from nowhere and quickly spreads through the body and face. They tend to last for several minutes. For some women they’re fairly mild, but others say their flushes make them feel like they’re trapped in a furnace.
Hot flushes are thought to be caused by hormonal fluctuations that affect your body’s temperature control mechanisms.
How can you treat hot flushes?
HRT (hormone replacement therapy) is the most effective known treatment for hot flushes. It works by replenishing the hormones that are no longer produced by the ovaries after menopause, and it often gets rid of symptoms completely.
Combined HRT patches that contain both oestrogen and progestogen seem to be most effective.
If you don’t want to take HRT, other prescription medicines, including certain antidepressants and clonidine (usually prescribed to help with blood pressure) might help.
Hot flushes triggers
Common hot flush triggers include:
- spicy food
- hot food and drinks
- tight clothing
- hot baths
- using a hairdryer
Identifying and steering clear of your own ‘triggers’ can help to reduce the frequency and severity of your hot flushes.
Heat seems to trigger hot flushes for some women. Using a fan and taking cooler baths and showers can help, as can wearing layered clothing and switching your duvet for layers of sheets. And weird as it sounds, some women wear socks to bed to lower their core body temperature!
You could also try cooling gels or placing a cold compress on the back of your neck when you feel a hot flush coming on.
Some women find practising slow, deep abdominal breathing for 15 minutes in the morning and evening, as well as when a hot flush starts, helps to control their symptoms. Meditation, yoga or tai chi also seem to help in some cases.
Phytoestrogens, found in plant foods like soy beans, chickpeas, lentils, ground flaxseed and red clover, have a similar chemical makeup to oestrogen. There is some evidence that eating foods rich in phytoestrogens can help to reduce the frequency and severity of hot flushes.
Supplements for hot flushes
Some women find that non-prescription medications and supplements help with their hot flush symptoms.
Folic acid: Taking 1 mg folic acid a day has been found to reduce the severity, duration and frequency of hot flushes
Vitamin E: Taking 400 IU vitamin E a day has also been found to reduce the severity and frequency of hot flushes
Ibuprofen: Some women find that taking an anti-inflammatory non-steroidal painkiller like ibuprofen relieves their hot flush symptoms
Complementary therapies for hot flushes
There is some evidence that black cohosh and isoflavone supplements can help to reduce hot flush symptoms.
Some women use red clover, dong quai, evening primrose oil or kava to treat hot flush symptoms, but there’s currently little evidence to support their effectiveness.
Always talk to your doctor before trying a complementary medicine, as they can have nasty side effects or interfere with other medication.