How to survive menopause and hot flashes in the heat of summer
Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause. Although they can happen all year long, the summer heat and humidity can make menopause symptoms feel unbearable.
In fact, one study of 955 menopausal women who tracked their symptoms for ten years found hot flashes were most prevalent in July. Night sweats (the nighttime equivalent of a hot flash) peaked in June. Researchers don't know exactly why this happens, but there are proven ways to help make menopausal hot flashes a little easier to get through.
The ages and stages of menopause
The average age of menopause is 51. By definition, menopause starts 12 months after your last period. However, symptoms begin much earlier, during a time called perimenopause. Perimenopause usually starts when women are in their 40s, however, in some cases it can begin as early as their 30s. The entire process usually spans nine to 15 years for most women.
Many of the symptoms we associate with menopause happen during perimenopause, including hot flashes and night sweats. About 75% of women in perimenopause experience them.
Hot flashes and night sweats typically last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. They start with a feeling of sudden warmth in either the upper body or the whole body. You might also experience:
- A cold chill after the hot flash or night sweat
- A racing heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Flushing, redness, or red blotches on the face, neck, back, chest, and arms
You may have a few hot flashes a week or multiple hot flashes a day.
Night sweats often wake women up from sleep.
During the warmer months, wear loose, unrestrictive clothing to aid in airflow and keep you cooler. Light, breathable fabrics like cotton and linen are good choices. Here are a few more ideas to help you stay cool this summer, the peak season for night sweats and hot flashes.
Create your space with night sweats in mind
Keep your home cool. Shut your curtains and blinds during the hottest times of day to block out the heat. Use ceiling fans, even with the air conditioning on, and keep smaller fans pointed toward your bed.
Avoid taking hot showers and baths to decrease the risk of increasing your body temperature.
Consider medication to manage hot flashes
Certain medications can help decrease hot flashes and night sweats.
● Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases estrogen and progesterone. These two naturally occurring hormones decline during menopause, which may lead to perimenopausal symptoms.
● Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) help some women decrease symptoms.
● Gabapentin and Clonidine are two other medications that may help with the symptoms of menopause.
Food, drink, and hot flashes
What you eat and drink can have an impact on hot flashes and night sweats. Following these guidelines may help manage perimenopausal symptoms.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Avoid caffeine, especially right before bedtime.
- Don't eat spicy foods.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Get enough calcium to help prevent osteoporosis during menopause.
- Sip cold drinks during a hot flash to help you cool down.
You may see a lot of information on TV and social media about taking dietary or herbal supplements to decrease the symptoms of menopause. No dietary or herbal supplements are scientifically proven to consistently work to ease menopause symptoms. Supplements may interact with any prescription medications you are taking. These substances may also have side effects. Always talk with your provider before adding dietary or herbal supplements to your routine.
Find your internal happy place in the middle of a hot flash
Managing stress and taking care of your mental health may make hot flashes more tolerable.
Mindfulness practices, other types of meditation, and paced respiration (taking slow deep breaths) can make a difference. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help, and yoga may also make getting through a hot flash more bearable.
Be kind to your body
Living a healthy, balanced life can help manage the symptoms and signs of menopause.
- Don't smoke or try to quit if you do smoke.
- Exercise to ease your menopause symptoms and help you sleep. During summer months, stick to indoor activities or walk early or late in the day when it's cooler for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Set and follow a good bedtime routine.
Handle hot flashes in the heat of the moment
Whether you have hot flashes a couple of times a week or a couple of times an hour, these quick tips may help.
- Bring a spray bottle of water with you to mist yourself if you feel a hot flash coming.
- Carry a small portable fan.
- Keep ice packs ready to go in your freezer.
- Place a cool, damp towel on your face or neck.
- Put an ice pack under your pillow during a night sweat.
It may be beneficial to use a symptom tracker for your menopausal symptoms. Identifying patterns of symptoms can help point to a trigger or allow you to plan your day around bothersome symptoms. Sharing your symptom tracking information with your provider may also aid in identifying treatment options that work well with your body and lifestyle.