When I was younger, I heard women complain about hot flashes. I’m so sorry, ladies, but I didn’t get it. I kind of assumed that hot flashes couldn’t be THAT bad- that these gals needed to stop the exaggerations. Suck it up, buttercup. How horrible could it be to feel a flush of warmth every now and then? Really? I mean- that can happen simply by going from one room to another or walking outside on a summer day.
Let me tell you- I was wrong. WRONG!
I haven’t had a period since my early forties. It wasn’t a symptom of menopause but the glorious result of a thermal ablation. My gynecologist recommended the procedure due to uterine fibroids and said that it could make my already light periods even lighter. Surprise! It did more than that. It stopped them completely, and I haven’t looked at another box of tampons since.
Because I had no menstrual marker for the onset of menopause, I had no clue when that stage of life started. Sure, there were little hints along the way, but nothing problematic. Nothing life-altering. Since I’m not someone who frets or moans about minor problems, I just kept going through my days as usual.
Then, IT happened. I didn’t realize what it was at first. I assumed that the temperature around me was too warm. The stove made my face flush. The shower was too hot. I finally had to face the fact that there was indeed a pattern that was increasing in frequency and duration. I got it. I knew what I was facing…the dreaded hot flashes. And- you know what? Every woman who ever complained about hot flashes was absolutely right! They suck! Not exaggerating!
Nighttime was the worst at the beginning of these new episodes, but the heat wasn’t limited to those sleeping hours.
During the day, I learned that layers were the key. Cardigan off, cardigan on. I also became savvy to the signs of an oncoming hot flash- the feeling that I can only equate to preheating the oven. The heat starts in my abdomen and spreads throughout my body from my ears to my toes, adding a little layer of sweat and a touch of redness to my skin.
At first, I tried to cope with the symptoms, assuming that this little issue would be short-lived. Use a fan to sleep. Pull my hair off of my sweaty neck. Wear layers of clothing. Open the door to the freezer and just stand there until the heat subsides.
The intensity increased. It wasn’t long before I was changing pajamas in the middle of the night because the first pair was soaked with sweat. I even bought a cooling pillow topper for our mattress, although I’m not certain that it actually cools. Maybe it’s just a mental illusion. Have you ever tried to apply makeup when your face is slick and glistening with sweat? How about driving in subzero winter temperatures without a coat and the car windows open?
I also started doing research and personal clinical trials to find something- anything- to end this fiery phenomenon that seemed to be ruling my life. A friend suggested that zinc supplements helped to ease her symptoms. Tried it. No luck. How about the wide variety of hot flash remedies found in health food stores? They may work for some women, but I’m not so lucky.
You know what? For me, nothing has worked for any significant amount of time. Nothing! I finally understood that I just had to deal with it. No magic potion. No quick fix. With further research, I learned that hot flashes last an average of 7 to 10 years–and possibly 11 or more for some women– according to a Harvard University study. DANG! Like I said before: suck it up, buttercup! These things aren’t going away without a fight!
There are many documented triggers for hot flashes, including hot weather, smoking, caffeine, alcohol, tight clothing, heat, stress, or spicy foods. I’ve identified my main triggers as environmental heat and hot or warm weather. Just using a blow dryer too long or taking a hot shower can trigger a hot flash for me. Cold washcloths or wet wipes placed on my neck, abdomen, or hands help to cool my body. I’ve even been known to stand in front of an AC unit or hold a cold water bottle on my skin to ease the heat.
Are hot flashes a nuisance? You bet! Will I celebrate the end of this era? For sure! If a woman tells you that she’s having a hot flash, you might think what I used to think. That hot flashes are no big deal. That hot flashes can’t be THAT bad. Who hasn’t felt a little warm at times, right? It’s more than that. It’s just one more reason that women are tough!
According to the National Institute on Aging, women might consider some lifestyle changes before trying medications for hot flashes.
- Dress in layers
- Avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine
- If you smoke, attempt to quit
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise and/or try mind-body practices such as yoga or meditation
- Use a fan- portable options are available
Explore a few options like I did. See if any combination offers relief. And know that you are not alone. If hot flashes are interfering with your day-to-day quality of life, it may be time to schedule a visit with your doctor to discuss medications or hormone therapy.