If you’ve ever experienced hot flashes, you know how desperate you feel to get rid of them. A new study finds that menopause-related night sweats and hot flashes are not a short-term occurrence. In fact, more than 50 percent of women experience these symptoms for seven years or more. That could feel like an eternity.
Some women may experience almost 12 years of symptoms because they begin suffering hot flashes and night sweats in the years before menopause and then at an average of 4.5 years afterwards. The average was calculated among those who were able to pinpoint the time of their final period. These findings were published in JAMA Internal Medicine and, according to lead researcher Nancy Avis, a professor of social sciences and health policy at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., they indicate a need for “more research on safe and effective ways to relieve these symptoms”.
According to the North American Menopause Society, menopause occurs when a woman has not had her period for 12 consecutive months, usually between the ages of 45 and 55. Women experience uncomfortable symptoms related to lower levels of hormones, including estrogen. Some symptoms may greatly interrupt quality of life, causing poor sleep and effectively a decline in physical health. Hot flashes are common; they are quick sensations of heat that sometimes occur with sweating.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is hardly a reasonable option, given that many women won’t touch it because of its link to an increased risk of breast cancer. Also, research shows that even taking HRT for less than five years after menopause, increased the risk of ovarian cancer by 40 percent. It makes sense that to many women, it wouldn’t seem worth the risk.
Experts report, though, that alternatives to HRT are out there. It’s important to speak with your doctor about any troubling symptoms you’re experiencing. Some women might need several types of treatment for their hot flashes.
Dr. JoAnn Manson says that low doses of oral contraceptives can relieve night sweats and hot flashes for women whose symptoms start before menopause and then, once they’re through menopause, if they want to avoid HRT for a while, they “may then want to switch to a non-hormonal treatment”.
Avis suggests steps to start out:
- dress in layers
- avoid caffeine, alcohol, smoking and spicy foods
- drink cold water
- keep the room cool
She also says that low doses of certain antidepressants such as Paxil and Effexor may help with hot flashes.
On the other hand, some women do not want to deal with pharmaceuticals. Alternatives sometimes chosen include:
- slow, deep breathing
Although Black cohosh, an herbal remedy, is often recommended for menopause relief, Avis says there isn’t good evidence herbal treatments are effective.
If you’re suffering hot flashes, night sweats or related symptoms, speak with your doctor to try to figure out the best treatment path for you.