One of the most unpleasant effects of menopause is having hot flashes. These sudden bursts of heat that spread over the face, neck and body occur randomly and range in severity from mild to severe. Hot flashes that occur at night, called night sweats, often disrupt sleep. Remedies for hot flashes and night sweats include home treatments and alternative medicines for mild cases, and hormone therapy and other prescription medications for more severe cases.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several practical measures you can take to help combat the unpleasant effects of hot flashes. When you feel a hot flash coming on, use a fan or air conditioner or open a window to increase air circulation. Adjust the room temperature to a cooler level if possible. Sip a cool drink during a hot flash to help lower body temperature. Wear layers of clothing so that you can remove outer layers during a hot flash.
Certain foods and beverages trigger hot flashes in some women. Learn to recognize those that trigger your own hot flashes and avoid them if possible. In general, foods that are hot and spicy and drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol are the most bothersome.
Some women reduce the effects of hot flashes through relaxation exercises such as yoga and meditation. These help to reduce stress, which may lessen the frequency and severity of hot flashes. A technique called paced respiration may also provide relief. It uses slow, deep abdominal breathing to promote calmness and relaxation. To practice the technique, sit comfortably and inhale deeply for five seconds while pushing the stomach muscles out. Breathe out for five seconds as you pull the stomach muscles in and up. Repeat the exercise until you feel relaxed and calm.
Many women use dietary supplements to reduce hot flashes and night sweats. Among the most popular, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, are black cohosh, soy products, St. John’s Wort and wild yam. Others include ginseng, valerian root, evening primrose and chasteberry. However, women should use caution when taking dietary supplements. Some have undesirable side effects, and some may interact negatively with other medicines. Dietary supplements are not regulated by any governmental agency, and there is little scientific proof that their use is effective for hot flashes. For these reasons, women who are considering taking dietary supplements should consult their doctor.
Hormone Therapy and Other Prescription Medications
Your doctor may suggest hormone therapy for hot flashes and night sweats that cannot be managed with home remedies or alternative medicines. There are two recommended hormone therapies for hot flashes, estrogen and progesterone. According to the Mayo Clinic, estrogen therapy is the most effective, but it should be taken in combination with progesterone to protect against endometrial cancer. Women who have had a hysterectomy may take estrogen alone.
Estrogen therapy also carries some risk of the patient's developing heart disease, and it should not be taken if you’ve had breast cancer or a blood clot. Progesterone is a recommended alternative for those who can’t take estrogen.
For women who decide against hormone therapy for hot flashes, doctors sometimes prescribe other medications. These medications have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to specifically treat hot flashes, but they have been approved to treat other conditions. Antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac, Effexor and Celexa, taken in low doses, may reduce the effects of hot flashes. Gabapentin, a medicine used to treat seizures and pain, may offer some relief, especially for night sweats, and Clonidine, typically used to treat high blood pressure, is sometimes prescribed for hot flashes.