Health Break | Published November 15, 2010

Hot Flashes: Reducing the Heat

If you have ever experienced hot flashes, you know that they are sudden sensations of intense body heat. Most women experience hot flashes during menopause, when estrogen levels are declining. The intensity and frequency of hot flashes are different for each woman; while some may experience just a few during the day, others may have them day and night, causing drenching night sweats and sleep interruption.

Hot flashes typically cause a warm feeling or intense heat through the face and upper body; red, blotchy skin on the face, neck or upper chest; a rapid heartbeat, perspiration; and a chilled feeling as the hot flash wanes. Less common symptoms include weakness, fatigue, faintness and dizziness. If hot flashes are mild and infrequent, there may be no need to treat them.

Women of all ages can experience hot flashes when they are upset, stressed or embarrassed. They can be accompanied by mild heart palpitations, anxiety or irritability. Hot flashes can be especially severe in women who are going through menopause as a result of chemotherapy treatments, anti-estrogen treatment for breast cancer or following the surgical removal of the ovaries.

Sometimes making a few lifestyle changes to manage the hot flashes can make a big difference in how your body will transition into menopause, including:

o Limiting alcohol intake
o Drinking cold beverages instead of hot coffee or tea
o Eating smaller or more frequent meals to avoid the heat associated with food digestion
o Eating low-fat, high-fiber foods
o Avoiding cigarette and other forms of tobacco
o Keeping your environment cool
o Dressing in layers—removing clothing as necessary
o Wearing cotton or silk fabrics
o Sleeping with fewer blankets
o Getting regular exercise
o Using relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, meditation and yoga

Although hot flashes are medically harmless, they can cause sleep problems such as chronic insomnia that can lead to memory problems, anxiety and depression in some women.

When should you talk to your doctor about the hot flashes you are experiencing? If you are having issues with hot flashes, discuss them with your doctor at your next scheduled visit. If your hot flashes are severe and disrupt your sleep or affect other areas of your life, call your doctor to discuss medical treatment options such as hormone therapy, birth control pills or other medications. Hot flashes typically subside after the first or second year of menopause.

Kristine Charles, MD, is a board certified obstetric and gynecology physician at Geisinger-Gray’s Woods and a member of the medical staff at Mount Nittany Medical Center.