Hot flashes are one of the most common complaints of women during menopause and perimenopause. Over two-thirds of women experience hot flashes during perimenopause, which is the gradual slow-down of a woman’s reproductive system as she approaches menopause.
What are Hot Flashes and Night Sweats?
A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat that comes on without warning. Your body may react to the feeling of heat with its natural cooling systems, causing you to sweat. Sometimes a hot flash is called a hot flush, especially when it’s accompanied by reddening of the face and neck and sweating. Some women also report an increase in heart rate and chills during a hot flash.
When a hot flash occurs while you’re sleeping, you may experience night sweats. Night sweats aren’t dangerous or unhealthy, but they can be uncomfortable and cause difficulty sleeping.
What Causes Hot Flashes During Menopause?
Doctors are still studying the exact causes of hot flashes and night sweats during menopause, but current research suggests that that the rapid changes in temperature result from a decrease or fluctuation of estrogen in the body.
During perimenopause and menopause, the body must adjust to the changes that result from lower estrogen levels. Lower estrogen levels are thought to trick the part of the brain that regulates body temperature into reacting as though the surrounding environment is very hot. This triggers attempts to cool the body off, including dilation of the blood vessels, causing flushing and sweating.
What can I do about Menopausal Hot Flashes and Night Sweats?
There is no estimated length of time that perimenopausal and menopausal women will have to endure hot flashes and night sweats. Some women will experience only a handful of them at the onset of menopause, while others will have them for life. The good news is that generally hot flashes tend to decrease in severity over time.
While you probably cannot completely prevent menopausal hot flashes, there are some known triggers that you can avoid to decrease their impact on your life:
- Hot environments
- Spicy foods
- Cigarette smoke
- Tight clothes
Keep your bedroom cool at night and wear light pajamas made with natural fibers, like cotton. You may also find that daily exercise eases hot flashes. If you’re not used to exercise, you could try activities that are easy on your body, like swimming, biking, and walking.
Alternative Remedies for Menopausal Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Many women have mild symptoms and would prefer trying over-the-counter solutions to their hot flashes and night sweats. These include Vitamin B complex, Vitamin E, Ibuprofen, black cohosh, and evening primrose oil. Plant estrogens, also known as isoflavenoids, are thought to provide some relief as they may deliver weak estrogenic effects. Foods that contain plant estrogens include soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, and tofu.
Prescription Options to Address Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
It is important to discuss treatment options for hot flashes and night sweats with your gynecologist. Hormone replacement therapy is an option if symptoms are severe. It works by re-introducing estrogen through a pill, cream, patch, rings, or spray. However there are some risks that come with taking HRT, and patients with a history or risk of breast and endometrial cancer may be advised against taking HRT altogether.
Fortunately, there are non-hormone options available that do not carry the same risks. One of them is FDA approved for treatment of hot flashes and is called Brisdelle® (fluoxetine). Other prescriptions include Effexor® (venlafaxine), Paxil® (paroxetine), Prozac® (fluoxetine), and Lexapro® (escitalopram). While many of these are used for treatment of depression, they may also be effective in treating menopausal symptoms as well.