Are You Feeling the “Heat”? – How to Deal with Hot Flashes & Night Sweats!

Many women are feeling the “heat” associated with hot flashes and night sweats.  In fact, over 75% of women will experience a hot flash sometime during her life span.  For others, approximately 10-15 % these symptoms can persist for the remaining 30+ years of life!

Pretty amazing, right?  In a previous blog post, we discussed what causes a hot flash and some natural ways to best handle them. You can take a look at it here!

When a woman is experiencing a hot flash, she may feel a sudden feeling of warmth across her chest, neck and face, which can lead to a flushed appearance.  Many times, these hot flashes are accompanied by an increase in heart rate, perspiration/sweating and feelings of anxiety.  When these occur at night, we refer to them as night sweats.

The majority of hot flashes are caused by hormonal fluctuations, before, during and after menopause.  Rarely, other causes can lead to hot flashes, such as thyroid issues, certain types of cancer and chemotherapy.  As a women’s health expert, I routinely check for any thyroid disorders by ordering a thyroid panel – TSH, free T4 and free T3- on my patients who are experiencing these symptoms.

Wonder why these happen?

Most research has shown that hot flashes and night sweats are caused by your body’s reaction to the drop in estrogen.  In your brain, there is an internal “thermostat” called the thermoregulatory center in the hypothalamus.  This control center is highly sensitive to fluctuations in hormone levels.  When estrogen levels drop, the brain thinks the body is too hot and the hypothalamus releases signals to different parts of our bodies.  It signals the skin to vasodilate/flush so heat can be released.  In addition, the adrenal gland releases adrenaline, which causes an increase in heart rate and possibly a sense of uneasiness.  After the flushing subsides, many women become chilled because the body has released so much heat.  

Interestingly, some women are more “sensitive” to these hormonal swings than others, explaining the variability in symptoms among perimenopausal and menopausal women.  If you are more “sensitive” to the hormonal changes, your hot flashes and night sweats may be more severe and frequent, compared to a woman with lower sensitivity.  Scientists are studying this hormonal phenomenon with new research on the horizon.

During the night, when these occur, a woman’s sleep cycle can be profoundly affected- waking up at night- with interrupted sleep.  Over time, for many women this leads to irritability, mood swings and brain fog, which have a detrimental impact on daily activities and quality of life.

  • Keep bedroom cool at around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Shed some weight – if you’re overweight or obese, losing 15-20 pounds or more can ease hot flashes.
  • Exercise has shown to reduce the number of hot flashes/pm sweats.

What supplements might help?

Before starting any supplements, please review them with your health care provider as some may interact with some of the medications you are already taking. Overall, studies evaluating the efficacy of herbal supplements have not proven beneficial in reducing severe hot flashes or night sweats.  Yet, some of my patients have tried a variety of the supplements shown below and found some mild relief of their symptoms. Again, a warning here – please speak with your health care provider before starting as they may lead to adverse interactions and increased bleeding.

  • Soy – Phytoestrogens
  • Ginseng
  • Black cohosh
  • Dong quai
  • Vitamin E

What about some mind/body approaches?

These are very intriguing to me because they can definitely help decrease hot flashes/night sweats, as well as lead to improved quality of life and marked reduction in stress levels. These include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):
  • Hypnosis
  • Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction/Meditation
  • Acupuncture

As we learn more about menopause and the associated symptoms, we need to remember that each woman is unique – what works for one woman may not necessarily work for another.  Having a heart-to-heart discussion with your GYN will help decipher which lifestyle changes, supplements or mind/body approaches might best suit your needs.  For women who experience severe symptoms, hormone therapy or other medications have been shown to be highly efficacious – this will be covered in a future blog.

In health and happiness!

Dr. Diana

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