Here’s why you’re still burning up.
After several decades of monthly periods and menstrual cramps, you may have welcomed menopause with open arms. What you may not appreciate as much is the new problem of hot flashes.
While these are unpleasant, they’re totally normal. The vast majority of women experience them during perimenopause and menopause. The light at the end of the tunnel is that they’ll end when menopause does — right?
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Hot flashes may continue for several years after your periods have stopped.
What causes hot flashes?
During perimenopause (the natural transition into menopause) and menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels begin to decrease. This affects the part of the brain that regulates body temperature. As a result, you may feel a sudden rise in temperature for about 10 to 12 seconds.
To determine how long certain women experience hot flashes after menopause, the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) followed 3,167 women of different races and ethnicities who were in transition to menopause.
The researchers found that women who had their first hot flash before their menstrual periods ended, had hot flashes for an average of nine to 10 years. When the first hot flash didn’t start until after their last menstrual period, the average duration was only about three and a half years.
Ethnicity played a role, too: Black women tended to have the longest stretch of hot flashes (more than 11 years). On the other hand, Japanese and Chinese women experienced them for about half that time.
Other factors that may affect how long you experience these temperature changes include:
- Previous or current smoking
What can I do to be more comfortable during a hot flash?
You don’t just have to suffer through them. There are several treatment options that can help you manage your fluctuating body temperature.
Certain lifestyle tweaks can help you manage your day-to-day symptoms too, such as:
- Dress in layers: This way you can quickly remove a cardigan or jacket when a hot flash starts.
- Carry a cool drink: Drinking cool water during a hot flash may help cool you down from the inside out.
- Sleep in skimpier PJs: Heavy pajamas may cause you to wake up often. Dress in lighter pajamas, and instead use extra blankets. That way, you can easily remove a blanket during a hot flash, and pull it back on once you feel cooler.
Some people may also benefit from medications to manage hot flashes. These include both hormonal (with estrogen) and non-hormonal options.
The good news is that hot flashes are a temporary problem, and you'll stop having them eventually. Still, if they are are affecting your quality of life, talk to your doctor.
Dr. Wu is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in New York City.
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-: Patients will often tell me
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that they feel very embarrassed by their hot flashes.
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They'll be in the middle of a very important presentation
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a moment of high stress
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and then suddenly they'll be sweating profusely
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and flushing in the face
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and that they find it very embarrassing.
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During perimenopause and menopause
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the time when a woman's periods are spacing out
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and when they stop all together
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about 80% of women will experience hot flashes.
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A hot flash is very quick
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they feel their temperature rising from head to toe
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they feel sweaty.
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Lasts about 10 to 12 seconds
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and then it's gone.
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When a woman has decreasing estrogen levels
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there is this response of the hot flashes.
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There's the change in the temperature control center
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and they will experience these hot flashes
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in response to the lower estrogen levels.
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Patients think that hot flashes will only last
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for maybe six months or a year
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but it's very common that it can last for several years
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and that they may have an occasional hot flash
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even 10 years after they stopped their periods.
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Patients will experience hot flashes
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maybe at a greater frequency
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during hotter months when it's hot outside.
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There is some variation across different ethnicities
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in regard to how long the hot flashes last.
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Women who smoke, who are obese,
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who have depression or anxiety
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they also tend to have hot flashes for longer.
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When I speak with patients about hot flashes
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we talk about observation and observing the hot flashes
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see what makes them better,
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what times of year they're better,
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and there's a certain amount of trying to wait it out
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but we also have medical therapies
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and behavioral therapies
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that can help with the hot flashes
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while your going through them.
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I often tell patients to dress in layers.
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With a hot flash you wanna be able
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to peel of your different layers quickly
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so you can cool yourself down.
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Also always keep a cold drink with you, drink it quickly,
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place the cold bottle on the back of your neck
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sometimes cooling yourself down from the inside out
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can really help.
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At night when you're sleeping
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don't dress in flannel pajamas,
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sleep in a tank top and underwear
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and that way if you're getting a hot flash at night
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you can throw off your covers, you're half asleep
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then pull them back over yourself and go back to sleep.
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Always keep a cold drink at the bedside.
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There are medications that can help with the hot flashes,
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there are ones that non-hormonal
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but deal with temperature regulation,
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and there are also hormonal therapies that involve estrogen.
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