Hot flushes: how to cope

Siski Green / 04 August 2014

Hot flushes are common during menopause. Learn more about how to cope with them with our guide to remedies and treatments.

Going through menopause you may never experience hot flushes, but many women do. It’s a feeling of intense warmth that spreads over your body. It can also include sweating and a red flush. While that may not sound so terrible it can be disorienting, as well as cause a great deal of discomfort – and, as it can occur at night, it can disrupt sleep, further reducing quality of life.

Cool down with gadgets. What do you do when there’s a heatwave? Put those same tools to use when you experience hot flushes. So dig out the electric fan, or handheld version, wear loose fitting clothing and if necessary, keep a small cool pack with you containing a cold gel pack. You can also buy Magicool or other similar spray products that help cool you down when you need.

Breathe to reduce hot flushes. One very small study (only 33 women) published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that controlled breathing for 15 minutes twice a day helped reduce hot flushes by half, compared to biofeedback treatment (in simple terms, this is where your brain activity is monitored, with the aim of training your brain to calm down). Controlled breathing involves inhaling for a count of five, then exhaling for a count of five, repeating this over the 15-minute period.

Use ice to cool hot flushes. Cooling yourself fully just as you feel a hot flush coming on can sometimes be enough to stop it in its tracks. With this in mind, one manufacturer has come up with the Menopod. This is a small device about the size of a computer mouse that activates copper pads which then can be used to cool your skin. You hold it against your neck when you feel a hot flush coming on and so, in theory, the hot flush will dissipate before it has even started properly. Of course, there are other ways you can do the same if you’re at home – ice, a cool pack, a bag of peas, all will help.

How yoga helps. Like progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing up each group of muscles, then relaxing them, yoga and meditation have both been found to help reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms.  

Exercise. It might feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re breaking out in hot sweats but regular exercise is an excellent way to ward off the sudden onset of feeling warm. A study from Penn State University, US, found that exercise helped prevent the onset of hot flushes in the 24 hours after physical activity.

Black cohosh. Research on whether this herb is effective or not is contradictory – large scale studies have yet to be done – but, as there are few side effects associated with black cohosh, it could be worth trying.

Pine bark. One small Japanese study found that pine bark supplement helped relieve hot flushes as well as other menopause-related symptoms.

Acupuncture. One study from Stanford University found that acupuncture was effective in decreasing the severity of women’s experiences with hot flushes, but didn’t reduce the frequency.

Evening primrose oil. Studies have produced contradictory results on this one, some finding an improvement in hot flush symptoms, others finding it worked no better than a placebo. It does produce side effects in some people, including inflammation and problems with blood clotting. For this reason, speak to your doctor about taking evening primrose oil before you do so.

Folic acid. This seems to be very effective at improving hot flushes – one study from the University of Alexandria, Egypt, showed a 65% reduction – but once women stopped taking folic acid, the hot flushes returned.

HRT. Hormone replacement therapy is very effective at reducing unwanted side effects of menopause but at a cost – there is a risk of side effects such as weight gain, sore breasts, nausea and headaches. And long-term use can increase your risk of certain cancers. Have a discussion with your doctor and weigh up your personal needs before you make a decision.

Antidepressants. Some research has found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) help reduce the frequency of hot flushes. However, symptoms returned once women stopped taking the medication.

Gabapentin. One very small study found that it reduced the frequency of hot flushes by around 15% more than a placebo.

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