Menopause is a naturally occurring process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, typically between the ages of 45 and 55. During menopause, a woman’s ovaries gradually stop producing eggs, and the body experiences a significant decrease in the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
While menopause is a normal stage of life, it can cause various physical and emotional symptoms, including hot flashes, mood changes, sleep disturbances, and vaginal dryness. Additionally, menopause is often accompanied by an increased risk of certain health conditions such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline. These issues can significantly impact a woman’s overall well-being and quality of life, making it essential to address them through appropriate medical care and support.
What are Hot Flashes and Night Sweats?
Menopause can affect each woman differently; some may not experience symptoms, while most women will be affected. The most common symptoms are vasomotor symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats.
Hot flashes are sensations of heat, sweating, flushing, anxiety, and chills that typically last from one to five minutes. The mechanism behind hot flashes lies in an abnormal vasodilation response to minor elevations of body temperature, typically caused by a deficiency of estrogen levels. The prevalence of hot flashes occurs in more than 75 to 80 percent of menopausal women.
Night sweats are similar to hot flashes in that there is heavy sweating, but mainly while sleeping. It may get to a point where bed sheets and sleepwear can become soaked, and sleep can become disrupted, bringing other medical issues. Typically, these symptoms start in women around 50 but can occur sooner. If women experience these symptoms before the age of 40, there could be a severe issue that could warrant further investigation from their provider. About eight percent of women will experience both vasomotor symptoms during menopause.
Causes of Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Although menopause is a common reason women might experience hot flashes and night sweats, other factors can cause these conditions. Including:
- Hormone changes that occur during the regular menstrual cycle or pregnancy
- Certain medications and medical conditions
- Pain relievers such as aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
- Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Cortisone and corticosteroids
- Diabetes treatment can cause hypoglycemia which can manifest as sweating.
- Lifestyle factors such as smoking, caffeine consumption, and alcohol intake.
- Other conditions
- Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)
- Neurological conditions
If symptoms are mild, you may not need to address them at all. However, if frequent hot flashes or night sweats are causing significant discomfort for you, there are steps you can take to alleviate them. Discuss any treatment plans with your doctor.
Natural Ways to Deal with Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Many people find relief from hot flashes and night sweats through simple lifestyle changes, including:
- Dressing in layers to easily remove clothing when experiencing hot flashes.
- Keeping a fan nearby or using a cooling pillow to regulate body temperature.
- Maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular exercise
- Managing stress through relaxation techniques or therapy
- Avoiding triggers such as caffeine, spicy foods, and alcohol, especially closer to bedtime.
Medical Interventions for Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
When lifestyle changes do not relieve you, your doctor may suggest medications to treat your symptoms. You’ll need to weigh the benefits and risks of each to determine which of these options is best for you.
- Hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women. In menopause, a decrease in the female hormones progesterone and estrogen can cause night sweats and hot flashes. Replacing them can help to alleviate these symptoms.
SSRI antidepressants, including paroxetine, have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat night sweats and hot flashes. Typically, these would be prescribed at a lower dose than needed to treat depression.
Medications such as gabapentin and clonidine may help to decrease vasomotor symptoms.
Alternative Treatments for Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Various alternative treatments are available to help alleviate hot flashes and night sweats. Keep in mind there is limited scientific evidence proving these treatments are effective, and their long-term safety is unknown. Specifically, certain supplements may carry health risks, including liver damage.
Still, some people have used the following treatments to get relief. Talk with your doctor before considering a new treatment plan or taking supplements.
- Acupuncture and acupressure may address symptoms by stimulating specific points in the body. However, research has not shown acupuncture to be more effective than a placebo treatment.
- Hypnotherapy to reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes and night sweats is effective in early studies.
- Herbal supplements such as black cohosh and red clover are popular recommendations for treating hot flashes. However, evidence is currently mixed on whether they effectively relieve menopause symptoms.
- Supplements such as Menoquil are formulated with a blend of ingredients to improve menopausal symptoms, such as black cohosh root, which contains phytoestrogens, plant-based estrogens purported to mimic the effects of estrogen therapies, as well as vitamins and minerals that support bone health, and lower the risk of osteoporosis. Your doctor can help you understand whether supplements such as Menoquil are right for you.
Menopause, while unpleasant symptoms can accompany it, many women also experience a renewed sense of freedom and self-discovery during this phase of life. Whether using natural, medical, or alternative interventions for managing symptoms, women must find a way to manage them to enjoy a high quality of life during and after menopause. It’s important to remember that menopause is not the end of life but rather a new beginning. Encouraging women to embrace this phase with positivity, self-care, and a sense of adventure can help them thrive and live their best life.