Hot flushes, also known as hot flashes, are one of the most common symptoms of the menopause, and for many women they can also be one of the most frustrating.
Menopause hot flushes, or hot flashes, are linked to changes in hormone levels. Affecting around 75% of women, hot flushes cause a sudden intense hot feeling, flushed skin and increased sweating. Hot flushes can have a significant impact on women’s well-being. However, steps can be taken to reduce their effect.
Here we look at what causes menopause hot flushes, and what steps you can take to help stay cool and comfortable.
Why do menopause hot flushes happen?
During the menopause, many women experience hot flushes. A hot flush is a sudden feeling of intense heat in the body, together with a flushing or reddening of the skin – most often on the face, neck and chest. Other symptoms can include excessive sweating and heart palpitations.
Menopause hot flushes are caused by a decrease in production of the hormone oestrogen as women become older. Falling oestrogen levels are thought to affect the part of the brain which measures and controls body temperature (the hypothalamus), triggering a cooling response. This causes more blood go to the skin, an increase in sweating, and an increased heart rate.
Hot flushes normally begin during perimenopause – the years and months during which a woman is approaching the menopause, but hasn’t completely stopped having periods – and they can continue for several years afterwards.
Other factors are also known to contribute to menopause hot flushes, including stress, diet and other lifestyle choices.
What are menopause hot flushes like?
A menopause hot flush involves much more than just feeling hot. For many women it is an intense feeling of extreme heat which spreads rapidly across their body and face, followed by palpitations, excessive sweating and sometimes a feeling of anxiety. Hot flushes can also cause feelings of dizziness, nausea or generally feeling unwell.
A hot flush can happen suddenly, or it can build up. They normally last for less than five minutes, but may happen several times a day, or several times in an hour.
Hot flushes and night sweats
Hot flushes are often accompanied by night sweats, a form of excessive sweating during the night which can make it difficult to sleep and can cause you to wake up with your nightwear and bedclothes drenched.
Hot flushes and night sweats can be uncomfortable, inconvenient and difficult to deal with. While some women are lucky enough not to be overly affected, for the majority it can be an unpleasant and at times embarrassing experience which interrupts their daily life, makes it difficult to concentrate at work, and can interfere with their relationships and overall well-being. A lack of sleep caused by night sweats can lead to low mood, fatigue and depression.
The good news is, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the impact of hot flushes and night sweats and help to stay cooler and more comfortable.
How can I reduce menopause hot flushes?
While it may not be possible to stop hot flushes completely, there are lots of factors which are known to make them worse. These can include sudden changes in temperature, stress and anxiety and some lifestyle factors.
As a general rule, living as healthily as possible can help to alleviate hot flushes. Tea, coffee, alcohol and spicy foods can all trigger hot flushes, so you should cut down on these.
Eat a balanced diet can also help – don’t be tempted to skip meals as this can lead to low blood sugar, another known contributor to hot flushes. Drinking plenty of water will help you to keep hydrated and minimise the effects of hot flushes.
Smoking can also increase hot flushes, so avoid smoking or reduce the amount that you smoke.
It can also help to take some regular exercise, as this regulates your hormones, produces natural endorphins (you body’s ‘happy’ chemical), and can help to you sleep more easily. Try going out for a short walk in the fresh air whenever you can.
Steps to keeping cool
Here are some more simple steps to help relieve the symptoms of hot flushes:
- Avoid extreme temperatures – Extremes of temperature, such as a hot sunny day or walking into a warm room from the cold can make hot flushes worse. You can help by staying in the shade in hot weather, sipping on cold or iced drinks, using a fan, and keeping your home and workplace as cool as possible. You may also want to swap that warm bath for a cool shower.
- Dress the part – Wearing light, comfortable clothing and dressing in layers which are easily removed can help you to regulate your temperature and stay cool.
The Live Better With community recommend wearing natural fibres which are breathable and absorbent, such as the merino wool camisole, a lightweight camisole which draws away heat and moisture from your body.
- Take action – when you feel a hot flush coming on, try spraying yourself with a cooling spray or mist, or applying a cold gel pack. The Live Better With community also recommends the Brobe Cooling Neck Wrap, a stylish neck tie containing tiny cooling beads which can help to keep you cool for up to five hours at a time.
- Practice relaxation techniques – Stress is known to release chemicals which can trigger hot flushes, and you should try to avoid stress or heightened emotions wherever possible. This may be easier said than done! However, relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and yoga can help. Try the Little Book of Mindfulness, which contains some useful stress-busting exercises.
- Write a journal – Keeping a diary of your symptoms and what you have been eating, drinking and doing can help you to notice any patterns. It may also help you to write down how you are feeling.
- Try a supplement – Many people find that taking a supplement can help. Maryon’s Hot Flush Kit is designed to help combat the effects of hot flushes and night sweats and includes a range of vitamins, minerals and naturally occurring plant oestrogens.
If you are struggling with the symptoms of hot flushes, or have other symptoms, it is advisable to visit your doctor. They may prescribe hormone replacement therapy, or other medication.
How can I reduce night sweats?
There are a number of things you can do to help relieve the impact of night sweats.
Firstly, make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature. If necessary, open a window or install a temporary fan.
Instead of a duvet, opt for layers of bedsheets and a light blanket, which can easily be thrown off. Bamboo bedsheets are naturally absorbent, antibacterial and can help to regulate your temperature.
Nightwear made from natural materials can also help: the Live Better With community recommend bamboo pyjamas, which are moisture-wicking and highly breathable, and an anti-flush vest, which can help to reduce the number and severity of hot flushes and night sweats.
To help with getting to sleep, a cooling mat can be inserted into your pillow or mattress, producing a cool surface to help relieve night sweats. Many people also recommend using a cooling gel eye mask at bedtime.
“I really enjoy putting this on before I go to sleep. It helps soothe my head and cools my temperature right down.” Live Better With community member
Hot flushes can be a distressing and inconvenient side of the menopause, but by keeping as healthy as possible and taking a number of other steps, you can help to reduce their impact and stay comfortable.