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Hot and bothersome menopausal hot flushes

Some post-menopausal women see their lives completely turned upside down by hot flushes. Find out how to deal with side effects of your changing hormones.

Bothersome hot flushes
© Thinkstock

At work or at home, day or night, menopausal hot flushes can occur without warning and can last for up to one hour. At the office, during a meeting or when you’re having dinner with friends, there’s no escape!

Hot flushes appear, without any warning, and often wreck the lives of the women affected. However, depending on how severe they are, hot flushes are neither experienced nor treated in the same way.

Hot flushes: the most common menopausal symptom

For the majority of women, menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. With it, functional problems sometimes appear, called climacteric disorders. Amongst these, hot flushes represent one of the most characteristic and earliest signs of menopause in the western world. The ovaries produce fewer and fewer hormones, and the resulting deficiency can trigger hot flushes, which are sometimes made worse by stressful situations.

Hot flushes generally appear even before periods have stopped. Other symptoms such as tiredness, vaginal dryness or weight gain are subtler and take longer to set in. Although one in every two women doesn’t have hot flushes or only very mild ones, the other half suffers from these sometimes very unpleasant symptoms.

Hot flushes: red, hot and had enough of them

Hot flushes are characterised by a feeling of intense heat that suddenly sweeps up from your chest to your neck and then your face, and at the same time you can go red and start sweating.

A hot flush usually lasts between 30 seconds and a few minutes and is often followed by cold sweats. Because they can sometimes happen up to 15 or 20 times a day, hot flushes can trouble some women so much that they are even prevented from working.

During the night, extreme sweats can take over, waking women up, forcing them to change their nightclothes and the sheets, and sometimes leading to insomnia. These temporary ‘mini-heat waves’ are not dangerous but can become really tiring and depressing.

Hot flushes vary greatly from woman to woman, in frequency and intensity, and different women experience them in very different ways. According to some studies, they also vary according to the country, diet and socio-cultural level.

Hot flushes can disappear spontaneously after 4 or 5 years on average, but it is estimated that half of women suffering from genuine hot flushes keep on having them for a long time – up to ten years, if they don’t have treatment. Alongside minor hot flushes that are often improved by avoiding stressful situations or by watching out for sudden changes in temperature, around 30% are so uncomfortable that they need treatment.

Hot flushes: a variety of treatments

The most effective treatment for extreme hot flushes is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can only be started after periods have completely stopped. By filling in the hormonal deficiency, nearly 90% of hot flushes disappear within a few days.

However, HRT does produce some severe side effects, and following various studies showing its implication in breast cancer, it’s only recommended if the quality of life is noticeably disrupted. HRT must be introduced at the lowest effective dose and for as short a length of time as possible – no longer than six months to a year.

Plant oestrogens known as isoflavones are derived from soya and are non-hormonal treatments used quite often, even though their effectiveness can vary greatly and there aren’t many studies of the risks involved in long-term use. Other herbal remedies include red clover and black cohosh, which have proven effective in the treatment of some women’s hot flushes.

Finally, some studies have shown that physical exercise can reduce hot flushes and other climacteric problems.  But don’t forget that as well as these harmless yet troublesome problems; the menopause is a time of high-risk as regards cardio-vascular and bone problems, and of weight-gain. Regular physical activity and a balanced diet are essential at any rate.

If exercise and diet can help reduce hot flushes as well, why do without them?

Posted 07.07.2011

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