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Hot Flashes During Menopause
Many women experience hot flashes before menopause. Almost all women will have them to some degree after menstruation ceases, possibly for another two years or more. This symptom is a very common side effect of the menopausal years and there are solutions. Even excessive hot flashes and sweating can be managed with lifestyle changes and treatment options.
Why do hot flashes occur? During menopause the body produces less and less estrogen. With diminished levels of this hormone many changes take place while the body attempts to adjust. One of these changes is that the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature, becomes 'confused'. The body has trouble regulating temperature properly and will release hormones and other chemicals messengers in an attempt to reach the correct temperature. This causes the sensations that are characteristic of a hot flash — warmth, a quicker heart rate and a red, flushed face, as well as the sweating, which is the body's attempt to cool itself.
For ten to fifteen percent of women, hot flashes and sweating will be very intense. Weakness, dizziness and fatigue may accompany the more severe hot flash symptoms. There may be no reason for this, but also when menopause is brought on by chemotherapy or surgery, or if the menopause transition is short, these symptoms tend to be stronger.
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Living with Hot Flashes
Try these lifestyle tips for managing and reducing hot flashes and sweating due to menopause. First, avoid potential triggers. Pay attention to what may trigger your hot flashes, such as warmth or spicy food and avoid it. Other triggers include:
- Cigarette smoke
Make sure you are exercising regularly. Consistent physical activity, such as a twenty or thirty minute walk every day, a bike ride, yoga exercises or an aerobics class can help you manage hot flashes as well as other symptoms of menopause. Being inactive increases your chances of experiencing hot flashes.
Eat a healthy diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Eat plenty of fish and vegetable protein and minimize fatty, fried and processed foods. Also, talk to your doctor about supplementing with vitamin E — this nutrient has demonstrated benefits for some women.
Keep yourself cool. This means dressing in layers so you can remove a jacket or sweater when you start to get hot. Keep the house temperature at a cooler level, open the window if weather permits and sleep with lighter blankets.
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Women who have trouble with excessive hot flashes and sweating may want to talk to their doctor about hormone therapy or prescription medications. Hormone therapy can relieve symptoms, but there are side effects including an increased risk for blood clots, breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. Antidepressants can also be helpful as they directly affect brain chemicals that are involved with the hot flash process. Other drugs to lower blood pressure can minimize the severity of hot flashes. All of these options have side effects so be sure to discuss with your doctor if and which medication is right for you.
Natural medicine can help as well. Herbs such as sage and dong quai are known to be beneficial for menopausal symptoms as they have an estrogenic effect on the body. Some women have found that acupuncture helps. Mind-body therapies such as meditation and deep breathing can help to reduce stress and possibly reduce symptoms. Talk to your doctor about all of your treatment choices, especially the use of herbal medicine.
Hot flashes are normal and very common among menopausal women. When mild they can probably be managed with lifestyle changes. Severe hot flashes may be more troubling. Try to improve your well-being and reduce symptoms through diet, exercise and simple lifestyle modifications and if necessary see your doctor about stronger treatment options.
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Breast Cancer, http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/menopausal/facing/hot_flashes.jsp
Medicine Plus, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007111.htm
Page, Linda. "Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone, 11th Edition" (Traditional Wisdom, 2003).
Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hot-flashes/DS01143/DSECTION=risk-factors