Hot flushes during menopause – causes and lifestyle solutions
What causes hot flushes during menopause?
Hot flushes (or hot flashes) during menopause are one of the most common symptoms; in fact three in four women will experience hot flushes at some point during menopause. Hot flushes often start in the year before a woman’s last menstrual period and can last for many years after that. (1)
Hot flushes, a ‘vasomotor’ symptom of the menopause, can disrupt the normal regulation of blood vessels, resulting in increased body temperature, which manifests as the feeling of intense heat. This often starts on the chest area, spreading to the back, face and neck, and is sometimes accompanied by heavy perspiration and a rapid heartbeat. You may feel as if someone has turned on the furnace on high and that furnace is actually inside of your body! Once you feel it coming, there’s not much you can do to stop it from happening. However, keeping calm and controlling your breathing will help you get through it. Whatever you do, don’t panic – it will only make it worse! And remember, most of the time, nobody will notice you’re having a hot flush but you.
Fluctuating hormone levels during menopause may impact the part of the brain controlling body temperature and are believed to be the primary cause of hot flushes. However, they can also be triggered by the consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods, smoking, tight clothing and overheated spaces. Stress and anxiety may also contribute to hot flushes during menopause. Check out our Menopause Symptoms Tracker™ to help you keep track of the frequency and intensity of hot flushes, as well as other symptoms. It’s a good idea to keep a journal of symptoms and notice any activity, drinks, food and emotions, which can help find patterns of triggers over a period of time.
How hot flushes can affect you
Some women will only experience mild hot flushes with just a feeling of warmth that last a few seconds and won’t interfere too much with their everyday life. Other women, however, will suffer frequent and intense hot flushes throughout the day that can be debilitating at times, and negatively impact their daily work and home life.
Hot flushes during menopause can appear suddenly (and often at the most inconvenient moment!), or for some women they may come on slowly. Hot flushes will last a few minutes until the sensation of intense heat will disappear, but in some cases, they may last up to several minutes causing quite a bit of discomfort and stress, and leaving you covered in a cold sweat.
Hot flushes at night during menopause are often referred to as ‘night sweats’ and can significantly disrupt sleep, contributing to increased fatigue and tiredness during the day.
Lifestyle solutions to help manage hot flushes during menopause
In some cases, hot flushes may be managed by implementing some self-help techniques and a few lifestyle changes:
1. Simple everyday adjustments
- Avoid potential triggers such as alcohol, caffeine, smoking and spicy foods.
- Dress in layers so you can adjust your clothes easily.
- Take a cool shower before bed to cool down.
- Sleep in a cool room and avoid a heavy duvet. You might also consider having a separate duvet to your partner if night sweats are a problem.
2. The right nutrition
There are some foods that may help alleviate hot flushes including oily fish, fruits and vegetables and whole grains, however it’s important to follow a healthy diet with lots of fresh vegetables so you can get the right nutrients. For more information on what to eat during this time, check out the Eat Well section of the site.
3. Gentle exercise
Exercising regularly can reduce the frequency and/or the intensity of hot flushes during menopause. A study from Penn State University in the US found that regular exercise helped prevent the onset of hot flushes in the 24 hours after physical activity. (2)
4. Practice Yoga
Yoga is a fantastic and natural way to help alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms associated with menopause. Some asanas or poses can help alleviate the discomfort of hot flushes. When experiencing hot flushes, yoga movements should be slow, paying close attention to the rhythm of the breath. This allows the mind to become more calm and stabilised. Yin yoga and restorative yoga are also ideal for reducing stress and anxiety, which are common triggers of hot flushes during menopause.
Slow, deep controlled breathing for 15 minutes a day will also help calm the mind and help with the management of hot flushes.
Try some yoga for yourself: 5 yoga poses to kick start your day
For some women, regular acupuncture treatments have proven to be a helpful tool to minimise hot flushes during menopause. Read Robin’s story: How acupuncture helped my hot flushes during menopause
Reflexology can help calm anxiety and hot flushes during menopause by re-balancing hormones. Alison Fuller, a reflexologist and hypnotherapist specialising in women’s health explains how in her article: Reflexology – rebalancing hormones to calm anxiety and hot flushes during menopause
7. Herbal remedies
Although some studies show incomplete results on the effectiveness of these remedies, some women find certain herbal supplements to be helpful when managing hot flushes. These herbal remedies include red clover, black cohosh and evening primrose oil.
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Please note: Whereas herbal remedies work for some women, you should always consult your doctor before taking any supplements, and especially if you have any medical history that could contraindicate with any side effects. As always, if you are concerned about your symptoms we recommend that you seek medical advice.