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Hot flashes: What are they and how to manage menopause symptoms

Woman sitting in front of a fan. Hot flashes.
Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of menopause. (Photo via Getty Images)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Menopause is the time in a woman's life when her menstrual cycle is ending, beginning 12 months after the last period and typically lasting anywhere from two to eight years. In Canada, the average age of menopause onset is 51.5 years.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

While menopause is a natural and healthy phase of all women's lives, it can bring a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. Common symptoms of menopause include:

  • Loss of periods

  • Chills

  • Night sweats

  • Insomnia

  • Mood changes

  • Bladder issues

  • Decreased fertility

  • Aches or joint pain

  • Changes in cholesterol levels

  • Weight gain

  • Thinning hair

  • Dry skin

An estimated 80 per cent of women experience one or more of these menopausal conditions.

Nights sweats are a common symptom of menopause, along with hot flashes, chills and mood changes. (Photo via Getty Images)
Nights sweats are a common symptom of menopause, along with hot flashes, chills and mood changes. (Photo via Getty Images)

What are hot flashes and why do you get them in menopause?

One of the most common symptoms of menopause is hot flashes, in which women experience sudden, uncomfortable overheating of their face and body.

In North America, 75 per cent of women experience hot flashes for six months to two years. While hot flashes are typically a sign that your body is doing what it's supposed to do, they are certainly not fun to deal with.

How to manage hot flashes on your own

Below are some of the best ways to relieve those pesky hot flashes so you can get back to being you.

Eat a balanced diet

Consuming a balanced diet is one of the best things you can do for your health, and it can reduce the intensity of hot flashes and other menopause symptoms.

As hormones change, the way the body absorbs nutrients changes as well. For this reason, women experiencing menopause typically need more of certain nutrients, such as protein, calcium and vitamin D. However, they should reduce carbohydrates and glucose.

Balanced diets should also be high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meats. At the same time, meals should have less processed foods, red meats, alcohol and added sugars. A healthy diet can reduce the symptoms of menopause and prevent chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Eating and living healthy can help reduce the effects of menopause. (Photo via Getty Images)
Eating and living healthy can help reduce the effects of menopause. (Photo via Getty Images)

Exercise

Exercising regularly is key to living well during your menopausal years. Exercise helps you maintain strong mobility, increase your energy, improve your mood and mental health and reduce insomnia, all of which are problems that can worsen during menopause. Regular exercise can also help to reduce the intensity of hot flashes.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends adults do a variety of endurance, flexibility, strength and balance exercises. Less stress, more energy and greater muscle mass better equip your body to take on menopause.

Make positive lifestyle changes

Making healthy lifestyle changes can greatly reduce the negative symptoms of menopause like hot flashes. Below are some healthy habits to prioritize before and during menopause:

  • Stop smoking: Smoking negatively affects your nervous system, especially during menopause. Ending your tobacco habit can give your body a break during this delicate time.

  • Practice stress management: Increased stress is a symptom of menopause that can, in turn, worsen other symptoms. Learning stress management tools such as meditation can help improve your mental, physical and emotional health during menopause.

  • Get enough sleep: Insomnia is also common during menopause, and not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to your health. Prioritizing sleep and wind-down routines can help lessen the most difficult menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes.

  • Spend time with loved ones and do things you enjoy: During this uncomfortable period, surrounding yourself with faces, places and things you enjoy can help you thrive.

  • Seek professional help: There's nothing wrong with seeking help for your mental and emotional health, especially when you're going through health-related difficulties. Therapists can help you navigate during this challenging time.

Making healthy lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, can help ease menopause symptoms. (Photo via Getty Images)
Making healthy lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, can help ease menopause symptoms. (Photo via Getty Images)

Treatments for hot flashes

For people with more severe hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, there are treatments that can help.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy is the most effective treatment for combating severe menopause symptoms, such as bone loss and hot flashes. However, it is usually only prescribed in small doses and for those with severe cases, as it has been linked to higher risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Non-hormonal therapies

Non-hormonal medication like low-dose antidepressants and gabapentin may be prescribed to treat the symptoms of menopause. Gabapentin is a drug for neurological disorders, but it's been found to greatly reduce hot flashes, particularly those that occur in the night. Make sure to talk with your health care provider before taking new medications and to decide whether a certain treatment may be right for you.

Stay prepared

While it may seem obvious, staying prepared for symptoms like hot flashes can help. This includes wearing clothing with removable layers to help you during flare-ups, as well as keeping things like portable fans and water on hand. Additionally, avoiding hot drinks, foods and environments when you can is helpful.

Avoid non-scientific treatments

Be wary of the sea of information on non-scientific menopause treatments out there. Some non-scientific hot flash treatments are black cohosh, DHEA, red clover and soy isoflavones. None of these treatments have scientific backing or safety approval. Always consult with your doctor before starting new treatments or medications.

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