Hot flushes affect up to 90% of menopausal women and these periods of profuse sweating are often embarrassing for women to experience in social and work situations
Triggered by temperature fluctuations by day, they can also occur overnight resulting in chronic sleep disruption and exhaustion.
What are they?
If you suffer from hot flushes you are not alone. They are a common menopausal symptom and are thought to result indirectly from lower oestrogen levels. Decreasing levels of the hormone stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which is involved in regulating a number of automatic functions, such as temperature, sweating and flushing. When it is overworked as the menopause approaches, these other systems can go awry leading to hot flushes and night sweats.
When do they happen?
Their intensity, frequency and duration vary. For example you may get them regularly throughout the day and even wake up with them at night, they may last no more than 30 seconds or can last as long as ten minutes, although this is uncommon. As well as a sudden rush of heat, symptoms include flushing, palpitations, dizziness, anxiety and irritability.
Typical triggers include heat, increased humidity, alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods, which are all best avoided. For some women even a hot drink or walking into a warmer room is enough to trigger that dreaded surge of heat.
Are some women more prone?
Menopause symptoms such as hot flushes may be hereditary and every woman is different. Around one in four have no significantly troublesome symptoms, one in four have severe symptoms, while half have symptoms with which they can cope by tweaking their diet and making lifestyle changes.
Thin women also tend to get worse symptoms as the body’s fat stores continue to produce some oestrone (a weak oestrogen) after the menopause. It’s also thought that women with stressful lives may be more affected. The reason? The adrenal glands also produce small amounts of oestrone, but this drops during times of stress when the adrenals are pumping out more cortisol and adrenaline. Smoking also has an adverse effect on the ovaries, which lowers oestrogen levels, making menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes worse.
Do they ever stop?
Again, every woman is different. For some, symptoms improve within a few months, but most women who experience symptoms continue to have hot flushes for at least a year after the menopause, and one in two will have flushes for as long as five years afterwards. Around 29 per cent of women aged 60 still experience some hot flushes. Eventually, however, they will stop as your body and hypothalamus become used to lower oestrogen levels.
Beat the heat
- Keep active Research shows that regular exercise (three hours of brisk walking, stretching, muscle-strengthening and relaxation exercises a week) can reduce even severe menopausal symptoms.
- Try sage – Dr Anne Henderson, gynaecologist and menopause specialist (www.gynae-expert.co.uk) and consultant editor of ‘Natural Menopause’ (£14.99, Amazon) says; “Recent research found that nearly sixty per cent of women taking a fresh herb extract of Sage leaf experienced a reduction in severity and frequency of their hot flushes by over half.” Buy herbal medicines displaying the THR logo to assure quality and safety like Menoforce Sage (£13.99, 30 tablets, Holland & Barrett, http://www.avogel.co.uk).
- Natures helpers – Soy isoflavones, sage as mentioned above and black cohosh can all help and are traditional herbal remedies worth exploring for menopausal symptoms.
- Stub it out – Research shows smoking increases the risk of flushing so do your utmost to give it up for good.
- Eat little and often – The heat generated by digesting big meals can bring on or aggravate flushing.
- Avoid stress – It drains the adrenal glands meaning they produce less oestrone. Make time to relax every day. Relaxation techniques such as yoga and breathing can help too.
- Stay cool – Hot rooms can aggravate flushing so keep your house and bedroom temperature cool. In the summer use a fan.
- Bathe in magic minerals such as magnesium such as Healthspan’s Magensium Balth Flakes (1kg pouch £8.95). Keep the bath warm, not hot and add some magnesium which helps to reduce stress as when you increase magnesium levels serotonin increases. Adda little lavender oil to help sleep.
- Look to the east – The Ayurvedic adaptogenic herb Ashwagandha is known as the rejuvenating herb and look for ones that contain B vitamins to support mood.
- Steer clear of triggers -These include alcohol, spicy foods, hot drinks and high indoor temperatures.
- Layer up – Wear several layers of thin clothes so you can peel them off if a flush strikes. In bed go for several light layers of bedclothes or a summer duvet.
- Go natural – Choose clothes and bedding in natural fabrics such as cotton and linen. Avoid synthetic fibres and silk, which can aggravate flushes.
- Spray it Keep a water spray in your fridge to help cool you down if the going gets hot. Carry some cool wipes in your handbag at all times.
- Eat your isoflavones To boost your intake of natural plant oestrogens, aim to eat more beans, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, especially flaxseed, wholegrains, fresh and dried plus, try increasing consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish and flaxseeds.
Finally, Dr Henderson advises that learning CBT techniques which can help prevent panic worsening the severity of a hot flush.
Visit A.Vogel Menopause Hub (www.avogel.co.uk) to find out tips and advice on how to reduce hot flushes as we move into the summer months.