National Women’s Health Week runs May 12 to 18 with the goal of empowering women to make their health a priority. This is a story in a series this week focusing on women’s health issues from the teenage years through menopause.
Hess, M.D., M.S., associate professor of Medicine, Division of
General Internal Medicine, Section of Women’s Health
Hot flashes – that sudden
feeling of intense heat followed by a chill – are the classic symptoms of
menopause. One year after a woman has
her last period, she is considered in menopause. Yet menopause-associated symptoms,
like hot flashes, can begin much earlier. For some women, they can start up to 10 years before menopause and can
continue a decade after. Others have them for fewer years, and many fortunate
ones don’t have them at all.
Why do these erratic
temperature changes occur and what can women do to better cope with them?
During the menopausal
transition, a woman’s thermoregulatory zone becomes narrowed. Think of the
thermoregulatory zone as the body’s thermostat. In your house if you set your
thermostat to 72, the air conditioning may shut off at 70 and then come back on
when the house is at 74. This temperature setting is generally comfortable and
keeps the on-off cycles to a minimum. But sometimes, the thermostat only wants
to be at 72, so if the house is below 72 it shuts the air conditioning off. If
it is slightly above that set temperature, the air conditioning comes on in
rapid cycle. That’s like what is happening during hot flashes: the body gets a
little warmer, which used to be fine, but now turns on the “air conditioning”
and starts to sweat. That makes the temperature drop and, since the range is
narrow, the body is now cold. This cooling period then restarts the heating
cycle all over again.
narrowing can be helpful for women to learn how to better cope with these
temperature fluctuations. Here are some useful methods to consider:
in women’s health in UPMC’s Division of General Internal Medicine are available
to discuss options to treat hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
in layers gives the ability to easily remove clothes and put them
back on. If a woman takes off her sweater when she gets the hot flash, she can
put it back on before she feels fully cooled off and avert the chill.
- Using relaxation techniques, like paced respiration (slow deep
breathing), can help to shorten the hot flash and minimize its severity. While
helpful during the time of a hot flash, slow deep breathing is most beneficial
when practiced at home for roughly 15 minutes, twice a day.
smoking can also reduce the frequency of hot flashes. In most
studies, smokers experience more hot flashes for a longer amount of time than
do non-smokers. So if you needed a
reason to quit smoking, this might be it!
- For some women, estrogen therapy, with or without
progesterone, may be appropriate to help relieve hot flashes. It is important
to talk with your doctor about any medication, in the context of your other