How can I get rid of hot flashes? FAQs and treatment ideas
Posted by Alex Daly on Aug. 5, 2019
Hot flashes are probably the first symptom you think of when someone says, “menopause.” So it’s likely no surprise that hot flashes are actually the most common symptom for women going through menopause, according to the North American Menopause Society.
In fact, hot flashes are so common that up to 75 percent of women going through menopause experience them. As the name implies, hot flashes can cause you to feel hot and break out into a sweat. (When this happens at night, it’s known as having night sweats.)
Since hot flashes go hand in hand with menopause, they’re most common among women in their 50s (or sometimes late 40s). While it’s less common, hot flashes can occur during perimenopause, the phase preceding menopause (typically after age 40), and they can even affect women who are only in their late 30s. Some research suggests that the earlier a woman experiences hot flashes, the longer she will have them.
While hot flashes may be unavoidable, you can try to manage them with medication and lifestyle changes. Read on to learn what hot flashes are and how you can get rid of them or manage them better.
What are hot flashes and what causes them?
Hot flashes are the most common and one of the most bothersome symptoms of the menopause transition (the phase leading up to a woman’s menstrual period ending permanently). Hot flashes usually come about quickly and feel like a burst of heat.
WomensHealth.gov describes hot flashes as “a sudden feeling of heat in the upper part of your body,” and says they can also bring about symptoms like:
- Redness in your face and on your neck
- Red blotches on your chest, back and arms
- Heavy sweating, possibly with a quicker heart rate
- Cold chills after the hot flash (some women even have “cold flashes” instead of or without hot flashes)
Research shows that for 10 to 15 percent of women, hot flashes are so severe that they disrupt daily life.
The exact cause of hot flashes is unknown, but many medical professionals believe that hot flashes are caused by changes in the part of the brain that controls temperature. This part of the body, called the hypothalamus, is greatly influenced by hormone levels, which fluctuate every day but even more so during perimenopause and menopause.
How long will I have hot flashes? When do they typically begin and end?
Hot flashes can occur at any point around or during perimenopause or menopause. The timing varies for every woman, but studies show that hot flashes usually begin around the age of 51. They may hit most frequently in the year before and/or the year after your period stops.
Hot flashes tend to affect women (on and off) for two to four years. However, around 25 percent of women can have them over a much longer period, as long as 15 years.
For cancer survivors, the onset of menopause can begin much earlier, and some studies have shown that women with a history of breast cancer experience menopause symptoms, like hot flashes, much more severely than women who haven’t had cancer.
Research has also shown that African American and Hispanic women tend to experience hot flashes for more years than white and Asian women.
Fortunately, as more time passes beyond the year after your period has ended, your hot flashes should decrease in frequency and severity.
How can I get rid of hot flashes with prescription medication?
A type of medication called serotonergic antidepressants are one treatment option for hot flashes, but they come with unwanted side effects, particularly in terms of sexual side effects (such as decreased desire to have sex, and arousal or orgasm issues).
Other medications that treat hot flashes and other menopause symptoms have emerged in recent years, such as bioidentical progesterone in a single daily oral capsule and low-dose, locally applied (vaginal) estrogen treatments. Talk with a medical provider to explore your treatment options.
Are there any lifestyle or behavioral treatments I can try to get rid of hot flashes?
The North American Menopause Society says that both cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis may help minimize hot flashes. Other research has shown that acupuncture can be effective in treating hot flashes.
In addition, lifestyle changes like these might provide some relief:
- Dress in layers so you can adjust your clothing with your body temperature changes.
- Carry a portable fan.
- Use cold water and wet wipes to cool your face and neck.
- Avoid common food triggers such as coffee, red wine and spicy food.
- Try yoga, mindful breathing or other techniques to calm your nervous system.
One thing to keep in mind: It’s a good idea to keep track of when you experience hot flashes and what you think might trigger them. This can help you and your doctor make better decisions about how to manage your symptoms.
When should I see a doctor for hot flashes?
It’s always a good idea to see a doctor when you start having hot flashes. You may need medical treatment if your hot flashes are bothering you. Menopause can be physically and emotionally demanding, but by working with a doctor, you can find a treatment plan that works best for your symptoms. If you’re looking for confidentiality and convenience, doctors are available online to work with you and send a prescription to your pharmacy of choice.