Symptoms of menopause – how to manage hot flushes

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
08 August 2019
Next review due August 2022

Going through the menopause is a natural biological change for women. Sometimes called ‘the change of life’, most women experience the menopause between the ages of 40 and 60 — it usually happens over several years.

Once the menopause starts, your ovaries stop producing so much of the hormone, oestrogen. This drop in oestrogen levels not only stops your periods but can also cause some unpleasant side-effects, which includes hot flushes.

As many as eight in 10 women experience symptoms of the menopause — these can start months or years before your periods stop. One of the most common of these is hot flushes. So if you’re feeling hot and bothered during this phase of life, you’re not alone. Here, I’ll explain what happens to your body when you have a hot flush. What’s more, I’ll share my top tips on how you can help get hot flushes under control.

What do hot flushes feel like?

If you’re having a hot flush, you may experience:

  • a sudden feeling of heat spreading through your body
  • a red flush spreading across your chest, neck, face and head
  • sweating
  • heart palpitations
  • feelings of anxiety
  • a lack of concentration

How long do hot flushes last?

A hot flush can occur at any time of the day. It usually lasts several minutes, but on average they last around four minutes. You may have them a couple of a times of week or up to every hour. Hot flushes that happen at night are known as night sweats. You may carry on getting them for several years after your periods stop.

How can you deal with hot flushes?

There are some things you can do to help manage hot flushes yourself. Try these tips to stay cool, calm and collected.

Avoid triggers. Although hot flushes can be unpredictable, you might find they’re worse after drinking alcohol or caffeine, after eating spicy food or when you’re stressed, for example. Try keeping a diary for a few weeks to see whether you notice a link or trigger.

Dress lightly. Wearing lighter clothing made of natural, breathable fabrics, such as cotton, silk or soft wool, might help you to keep cool. Go for looser styles rather than tighter ones. During the colder months, wear a few light layers so you can easily take clothes off when you feel a hot flush coming on.

Layer your bed linen. The same principle applies at bedtime. Try to keep your room cool. Rather than using one heavy duvet, try layering a few light blankets and sheets made from natural fabrics. Sheets made with 100% cotton are usually cool and comfortable.

Use a fan. Keep a fan in your bedroom and on your desk for times when you need to cool down. You can also carry a battery-powered mini-fan in your bag, or go for vintage glamour with a traditional hand-held fan.

Carry a cooling spray. Keep a small spray bottle in your bag, on your desk or close to hand when you’re at home. Fill it with water and give yourself a little spritz to cool down during a hot flush.

Take a lukewarm shower. When you take a shower, aim for a temperature that’s a happy medium rather than too hot.

Lead a healthy lifestyle. Following a healthy lifestyle can help with many other symptoms of the menopause, not only hot flushes. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, drink sensibly and don’t smoke. This will also help to reduce your risk of developing things like heart disease and osteoporosis, as the risk of these is higher after the menopause.

Is there a treatment for hot flushes?

How severe and how frequent your hot flushes are will be different for every woman. If you’re finding it difficult to manage your hot flushes with the tips above, there are other treatments you may be able to try.

Supplements and complementary therapies

Some women try supplements and complementary (or alternative) remedies to ease their menopause symptoms. It’s important to note that supplements come in many different preparations and their quality, purity and safety varies. There is some evidence that a few of them might have a benefit, but for others, the science is still unclear.

Some women claim that acupuncture or relaxation techniques help them with menopausal symptoms, but there is little evidence to support their use. Speak to your GP before trying a supplement or remedy, as some can interact with other medications you might be taking.

HRT and other medications

Your GP can also talk to you about hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which replaces oestrogen. It’s the most effective treatment for hot flushes. They’ll explain the risks and benefits of taking HRT.

If you decide not to take HRT, or if it’s not recommended for you, there are other non-hormonal medications available. Don’t suffer in silence. If hot flushes are affecting your day-to-day life, talk to your GP about what might work for you.

If you’re struggling with menopause symptoms, or want to support someone who is, we’re here to help. There’s lots of information, expert advice and signposting on the menopause pages within our Women’s Health Hub, and you don’t need to be a Bupa customer to access any of it.

Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP

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