According to scientists, we just went through one of the hottest decades on record. Does this mean if you often have that sudden feeling of warmth leaving you drenched in sweat, that it’s due to global warming or your own personal climate instability?
If you’re in midlife, there’s a good chance that you’re experiencing hot flashes, the classic symptom associated with menopause. And you’re in good company. Up to 80% of women experience vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats) during the transition to menopause.
“This new study diminishes the myth that hot flashes last for only a few years. We now know that in some women, the symptoms persist well past menopause.”
Researchers used to think that these symptoms lasted between 3 to 5 years. But a new study published in the journal Menopause indicates that the timing and duration of hot flashes can vary widely from woman-to-woman.
For the lucky few, the symptoms are transient. But, for a quarter of women, symptoms can persist for up to 10 years or more following menopause. That’s a sobering statistic.
The findings use data from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, an epidemiological study that tracks the health of women during their middle years. The study examines the physical, biological, psychological and social changes in midlife women from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds.
After following nearly 1,500 participants for an average of 15 years, researchers found that weight, race, education and lifestyle all affect the timing and duration of menopause symptoms.
Based on their investigation, researchers found that women fit into one of four hot flash categories as they transition through menopause:
Early Onset (18.4%). Symptoms appear up to 10 years before the final menstrual period, with a decline around the final menstrual cycle.
Late Onset (29%). Symptoms appear near the final menstrual period with later decline after menopause.
High Frequency (25.6%). A consistently high chance of having symptoms that can last 10 or 15 years following the last menstrual cycle.
Low Frequency (27%). A consistently low chance of having symptoms as women transitioned through menopause.
Which category a woman fell into was determined in part by uncontrollable factors such as race and levels of estrogen. For example, Black women were more likely to have high frequency of symptoms whereas Chinese women were more likely to have a low frequency. Women with low estradiol levels, were more likely to experience an early onset of menopausal symptoms.
However, a number of controllable factors such as overall health, obesity level and mental health also determined the extent and timing of menopausal symptoms. Women with a lower BMI and better overall health were more likely to experience fewer menopausal symptoms, for a shorter duration.
Manage Hot Flashes with Lifestyle Changes
As you transition through menopause, you can make some lifestyle changes that will not only minimize your symptoms but improve your overall health. But, what works for one woman may not work for another. Keep track of when your symptoms occur to determine the best steps to take that keep you comfortable and in control.
Invest in a Personal Fan. Sitting in a room without any air movement can spark hot flashes faster than gasoline on a fire. Keep the air circulated with a personal fan. Check out Cool It® Personal Fan, Retracto Personal Fan and Personal Bladeless Fan.
Sleep on a Cooling Pillow. No surprise that drinking a glass of ice-cold water will cool you down during night sweats. In a similar manner, sleeping on a cooling pillow like Sharper Image’s Temperature Regulating Pillow can keep this symptom at bay.
Wear Loose Fitting Clothing & Layer. Hot flashes and profuse sweating can come on suddenly and are often followed by the chills. To keep cool and wick away sweat, wear natural fibers like cotton and linen. Wear a light t-shirt, loose blouse and unstructured jacket so that you can quickly peel off a layer when feeling hot and add back a layer when you’re starting to get chilled.
Engage in Vigorous Exercise. Seems counter intuitive but good evidence suggests that vigorous exercise can reduce hot flashes. How? By exercising vigorously, your body is better able to regulate temperature. The operative word is vigorous which means sustained and strenuous exercise (e.g., running for 45 minutes, 5 times a week). A casual stroll around the neighborhood doesn’t cause the physiological changes needed to reduce hot flashes.
Lose Excess Weight. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you’re carrying excess weight, you’ll be more likely to experience hot flashes. In this study, women with a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) were more likely to experience late onset of symptoms after their final period that gradually declined in the following decade. Embark on a weight loss plan that gets you focused on eating healthier and exercising.
Stop Smoking. Here’s yet another reason to kick the habit – smoking has been reported to increase hot flashes.
Watch Your Alcohol Intake. You know the flushed feeling you get when you drink a glass of wine or enjoy a cocktail. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that alcohol can bring on a hot flash. Women in the high frequency hot flash group were more likely to be alcohol drinkers. Alcohol may not prove to be a trigger for YOU but it’s a good reason to pay attention to your intake. While moderate drinking (1 drink a day) has health benefits, any amount of alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer and many other cancers.
Manage Stress & Anxiety. In the study, it was more common in women who reported symptoms of depression or anxiety to report an early onset of symptoms and to report a consistently high chance of having symptoms. Try to better manage the stress in your life from taking a yoga class and practicing meditation or going out with friends and working with a therapist.
Making these positive lifestyle changes will not only improve your menopausal symptoms but improve your health and lower your risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.