What are Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes are most commonly associated with menopause, although they may be caused by other hormonal conditions as well. The intensity of a hot flash can vary among different women. The duration of symptoms also varies, with some lasting for an hour, while others even last for a day or two! A hot flash is characterized by a sudden inexplicable feeling of heat, typically affecting the face, neck and chest region. It affects 3 out of 4 menopausal women and can continue for several years, in some cases even into old age. Here are some ways to reduce hot flashes
Avoid Known Triggers
Hot flashes are often triggered by external factors, many of which are well within our control with simple lifestyle changes. Avoiding such triggers is the best way to prevent a hot flash. Avoid consuming alcoholic and caffeinated beverages and stay away from spicy food. In addition to your diet however, constant feelings of stress and anxiety can also increase the incidence of hot flashes, so learn to relax and take it easy. Your clothing can also increase or decrease the risk, so avoid wearing restrictive and warm clothing like pullovers and woolly jumpers; instead opt for loose-fitting cotton fabrics.
Healthy Body Weight
Obesity is a very big risk factor for hot flashes and women who are highly overweight have a greater likelihood of experiencing high intensity hot flashes. This means that the symptoms are a lot more severe and they also surface with a greater frequency. Maintaining a healthy body weight can help to lower the incidence of hot flashes considerably. Physical activity and diet go hand in hand with maintaining body weight and they also help reduce the risk of hot flashes.
Hormone replacement therapy with estrogen and progesterone hormones is currently the most effective method of treatment for hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. There are other benefits of hormone replacement therapy as well, as women who receive progestin hormones along with estrogen now have protection against endometrial cancer, which affects the lining of the uterus. Hormone therapy is typically administered in the lowest possible dosage for the shortest necessary period. Some conditions under which estrogen therapy should be avoided are if you have had a blood clot or suffered from breast cancer.
Antidepressants are nowhere near as effective as hormone replacement therapy but they can help to prevent the occurrence of hot flashes and this makes them extremely valuable to women who cannot undergo hormone therapy. Always be cautious when dealing with antidepressants as they can pose a high risk of side effects like nausea, dizziness, weight gain and dryness of the mouth.
Gabapentin is a drug that is normally used to treat nerve-related pain and seizures. This drug has also been found to be effective in treating hot flashes that occur with menopause. The drug is moderately effective as a hot flash treatment, but it does present with a few minor side effects like drowsiness, dizziness and headaches.
Instead of treating hot flashes with medications, you can also try using natural methods to cool down, just as you would if there was a heat wave. For mild hot flashes, such an approach will usually suffice. To cool down, make sure that you have some kind of device to cool you down like a portable fan, an ice pack or cooling gel. Staying in an air-conditioned room would be fantastic, but if that isn't an option, you can also try to shower with cool water or soak in a tub with cool water.
Catch your Breath!
Breathing techniques or breathing exercises offer various health benefits and are also effective in combatting hot flashes. Controlled breathing has today come to be recognized as extremely beneficial to your overall health and well-being because of its effects on the cardiovascular system and stress levels. Some studies have shown that women who participate in controlled breathing exercises on a daily basis are far less likely to experience hot flashes.
Hit the Yoga Mat
Being physically fit reduces the risk of hot flashes to some extent and what better way to stay fit than with yoga. Yoga also includes breathing techniques that have been shown to help reduce the incidence of hot flashes. In addition, yoga takes a comprehensive approach, combining physical activity and poses with breathing and meditation techniques. Meditation is central to the practice of yoga and it helps with progressive muscle relaxation and gives you better control over your bodily functions.
The advice to quit smoking is listed in almost every list for the prevention of almost every known health condition and with good cause! Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for several health conditions and it significantly raises the risk of health complications including hot flashes. Quitting smoking will not only likely reduce the incidence of hot flashes but it will also lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, premature aging, Alzheimer's disease and numerous other conditions.
In order to avoid the risk of side effects or because conventional treatments have not been effective enough, many women seek help from naturopaths and other practitioners of alternative therapies. While most such alternative therapies are found to be ineffective, some of them could be effective but require greater research. Some studies suggest that acupuncture may help to reduce the severity and frequency of hot flushes, but these findings are contested by other researchers. Hypnosis has also been found to be extremely promising as a treatment for hot flashes in postmenopausal women, but present research is inadequate.
Herbal treatments and supplements are often touted as cures to numerous conditions, but very often the risks far outweigh the benefits. Although herbs are natural substances, they possess potent compounds and toxins that lend them their healing powers. This also means that they can be extremely toxic and may interact with other drugs or cause side effects. Always check with your doctor before trying any herbal supplement. Black cohosh is one such herb that is said to help treat hot flashes, but studies have been inconclusive. Moreover, if not consumed appropriately, it can cause liver damage.
Ginseng, dong quai and kava are three other herbs that are popular as treatment for hot flashes. Studies suggest that none of them are effective at treating hot flashes but they could offer some other benefits. Ginseng can help with insomnia and mood swings, both of which can be problematic during menopause. Kava can also help you destress and it lowers anxiety levels. Kava however can cause liver damage and dong quai greatly increases the risk of bleeding complications when blood-thinning medications are administered as it amplifies their effect.