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Hot Flashes: You Don’t Have to Take the Heat
March 2014

Hot Flashes: You Don’t Have to Take the Heat

A sudden rush of heat across your face and upper body, followed by a rapid heartbeat, sweating, even chills—these are likely the signs of a hot flash. It’s the chief complaint for many women approaching menopause. The latest treatment options can help you manage these bothersome symptoms.

A hormonal shift

Every woman experiences the transition to menopause differently. Changes in the hormones estrogen and progesterone can cause irregular periods, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep troubles, and mood swings. Not all women suffer from these symptoms. But those that do may find them discomforting.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently reviewed the latest research on treating the most common menopause symptoms—namely, hot flashes and vaginal problems. Hot flashes, in particular, plague many women. Some women even report having them more than 10 times in a day.

From its review, the ACOG found that the most effective treatment for hot flashes is hormone therapy. It entails taking small doses of estrogen or estrogen mixed with progestin—a synthetic version of progesterone. It’s available in pill form and as a patch, spray, or gel.

Hormone therapy isn’t right for every woman. You should avoid it if you have a history of breast cancer, heart problems, liver disease, or vaginal bleeding. It may increase your risk for certain cancers and blood clots. As such, experts recommend taking the lowest effective dose over the shortest amount of time possible.

Other treatment options

If you and your doctor decide against hormone therapy, you do have other options. Some antidepressants may work for hot flashes. The FDA approved one such drug called paroxetine.

You can also cool down hot flashes with these lifestyle strategies:

  • Dress in layers. You can then remove clothing, if needed.

  • Avoid certain food triggers, including caffeine, alcohol, and spicy dishes.

  • Minimize stress. If you feel a hot flash starting, breathe slowly and deeply.

 

You may be tempted to try soy products or herbal remedies, such as black cohosh. The ACOG and other health experts don’t recommend these options. Scientific studies have not proved their safety and effectiveness. Plus, some herbs can be toxic if mixed with certain medications.

 

Learn more about how menopause changes a woman's body.

 

Relieving Painful Sex

When going through menopause—and often after—many women have vaginal problems, such as dryness and irritation. These issues can make sex uncomfortable. Unfortunately, women often suffer in silence. 

To help relieve painful sex, consider using an over-the-counter vaginal lubricant or moisturizer. If symptoms are severe, talk with your doctor. He or she may recommend hormone therapy. The following tips may also help:

  • Tell your partner. Open communication about your symptoms can ease anxiety and improve intimacy.

  • Change it up. Activities such as massage or oral sex can please you and your partner without the pain of intercourse.

  • Prepare beforehand. A warm bath or an over-the-counter pain reliever can ease symptoms. If you have irritation after sex, try applying ice or a frozen gel pack to your vulva.

 

Online resources

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

North American Menopause Society

Office on Women's Health

 
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