I searched around for blog posts on menopause hot flashes, just to see what women were writing, and I discovered: not much. Which is strange, considering how many of us are having them. I even sent an email out to a few friends, asking them to tell me about their hot flashes – insights they had to share, survival tips. But I only got two responses. One said, “I don’t get them,” and another described them as “mild.”
That was it. Maybe my friends weren’t eager to talk about them, which I understand. If you’re having hot flashes, it’s most likely related to your ovaries being damaged or gone or shutting down, which means you’re going through menopause. And there’s nothing sexy about menopause. The word itself is a downer. It’s built from “meno,” which means “less,” and “pause,” which means to stop temporarily – in this case, until you’re dead.
Women aren’t jumping at the chance to talk about it. We don’t want people to know we’re in it, because reaching menopause feels as though you’ve hit your expiration date. Yeah, we all hate our periods. Until we stop getting them.
Menopause was probably just around the corner for me, because of my age. But until my ovaries were removed about seven months ago, I was still having regular periods, and I’d never had a hot flash. But two days after I got home from the hospital, I experienced my first night sweat. I woke up soaked, as though I’d just climbed out of a swimming pool, and it was terrifying. I thought, “if this is what every night for the rest of my life looks like, I’m going to need to drink. A lot.”
Except that drinking exacerbates hot flashes and night sweats. So, no comfort there.
I woke up soaked, as though I’d just climbed out of a swimming pool,
and it was terrifying.
Fortunately, that one night was my only night of waking up in sodden bed sheets. But I still get hot flashes. Not as often as I did in the first months after my surgery, but I get them. Mostly at inopportune times, because my hot flashes tend to get triggered by sitting still. Which means I’m most likely to get one when I’m all dolled up in professional attire and perched in a conference room, meeting with a client. My hairline will suddenly turn sweaty, and I start stripping off whatever clothes I can without leaving myself naked.
I hate hot flashes. Really hate them. I’d love to tell every woman on the verge of menopause, “They’re not that bad.” But they are. And I’ve done a lot of searching for ways to prevent them or, at least, manage them, but not even the experts seem to know much about them. WebMD says, “The biochemical cause of hot flashes is not well understood.” Which is disconcerting, because if we don’t know the cause, we can’t develop a reliable preventative.
So, I don’t have one. But what I do have are a few survival tips. Some are common. You’ll find them every time you google “hot flash.” But a few are my own desperate measures, ones I’ve developed through trial and error:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, spicy food, and hot drinks. This is common advice. I got it from my doctor and I’ve read it all over the internet. For me, it works.
- Dress in layers. I alternate between burning up and freezing, so I’ve adopted a uniform of a loose-fitting linen T-shirt, a silk or linen scarf, and a loose, cotton cardigan. I’ll sometimes spend an entire symphony concert taking off my scarf and sweater, then putting them back on, taking them off, putting them on….
- Exercise every day. Moving around helps. My doctor told me this, and I’ve found it to be true. If I exercise every day, I get fewer hot flashes. And if I get up and walk around the block every few hours, I can go all day without one.
- Wear only underwear whenever you can. Now we get to my personal tips, with the first being, “The fewer clothes you have on, the better you’ll feel.” Sure, you have to put on pants to leave the house, but at home, skip ‘em. And buy yourself underwear that you can live in. I work from home and can spend most of my life barely dressed, but I don’t want to sit at my desk naked. I need a little something on. These are my underwear must-haves:
- TomboyX – This is a line of women’s underwear styled like men’s. You can wander around the house in them, feeling clothed…just enough. Skip the cotton styles, though, and go for the MicroModal. It’s light, breathable, and quick drying. It’s also a little pricy, but the quality is great, and you’re worth it.
- Yummie bralettes – Few things are as uncomfortable during a hot flash as a thick, padded, underwire bra. Bralettes are the way to go. They’re lightweight and feel kind of like tiny tank tops, perfect for wearing on their own, no T-shirt required. At least, not when you’re at home. I even sleep in mine.
- Get a really big fan and put it by your bed. Lying down is a significant hot flash trigger for me, and the only way I can sleep through the night is with a really big fan pointed at my bed. A pedestal Hunter. It may seem crazy to drop 90 bucks on a fan, but I love that thing. I don’t need it during the day, but at night, that fan ensures I get 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep.
- Always have ice water on hand. I’m never without a glass of ice water. I sip it through the day and gulp it during a hot flash. And when I have to put on pants and leave my house to meet with clients, I fill up a Contigo travel mug so I’m ready whenever that inevitable hot flash hits.
I don’t have any recommendations for natural supplements. You can find a lot of information on them on the internet, especially black cohosh. In fact, after hearing about it from several friends, I bought a big bottle of black cohosh on Amazon. But when I asked my doctor about it, she said there’s no evidence that it prevents hot flashes – there’s no evidence that any of the various natural remedies help. But I will give a thumbs-up to the supplements Shannon Perry highlights in her blog post. Whether you’re menopausal or not, these are all great things to add to your regimen. Probiotics, especially, are life-changing.
You may also hear about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). While this used to be standard treatment for hot flashes, HRT has been linked to breast cancer, and neither my GP nor my gynecology oncologist use it with their patients. Some doctors prescribe low doses of the antidepressant Effexor, but, again, neither my GP nor my gynecology oncologist were enthusiastic about putting me on it, saying that exercise could have the same benefit. (“Let’s try that for year and see how you do.”)
The most beneficial thing I can recommend is to keep a journal. Take note of when you get hot flashes. What were you doing just before? What were you eating or drinking? What time of the day was it? How were you feeling – relaxed, anxious, tired, sad? Every woman is different, and if you pay attention to how your hot flashes show up in your life, you’ll discover patterns, some of which will be common and some unique to you. And then you can develop your own approaches to keeping the hot flashes at bay.
But, also, buy yourself a really big fan.