All About Hot Flashes And Menopause - Elektra Health

Get smart about menopause with our *FREE* 10-day email series, Smash the Taboo! SIGN UP TODAY!

Hot flashes

Get smarter together

SYMPTOM

Hot flashes

Hot flashes (or night sweats, if they happen at night) are a hallmark symptom of the menopause transition. Every woman will experience them differently — the frequency, intensity, and overall duration can vary widely.


Stay updated

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter with cutting edge science, stories & recommendations for the 21st century woman.

    The science

    Doctors call hot flashes/flushes and night sweats “vasomotor symptoms” (VMS), defined as a form of hormone-related temperature dysfunction.

    They manifest as episodes of perceived heat and/or sweating that typically last less than two minutes and — you guessed it — cause a sudden feeling of warmth spreading through the upper body and face, a flushed appearance, red or blotchy skin, rapid heartbeat, perspiration, and, ironically, also chills.

    Why do hot flashes happen?

    Although the causes aren’t yet fully understood, evidence points to hormone fluctuations. When estrogen levels drop, the hypothalamus (which acts as our body’s thermostat) becomes more sensitive to slight changes in body temperature. Thinking it’s overheated, the hypothalamus starts working to cool the body by shunting blood away from the core to your skin, which kick-starts a chain of events that causes flushing, sweating, and an internal sensation of heat despite the fact that our body temperature isn’t actually rising.

    Vasomotor symptoms (VMS) refer to hot flashes and night sweats, which are caused by hormone fluctuations during the menopause transition.

    Hormone levels aside, there are certain factors believed to increase risk, including smoking, obesity (higher BMI = higher risk), and race (Black women report hot flashes for a longer duration than women of other races — more than 11 years — & Asian women for a shorter duration). Researchers have also found that those of us experiencing symptoms of physical anxiety – which manifest as stomach upset, headache, rapid heart rate, and dizziness — are more likely to experience hot flashes.

    There are four primary types of “flashers” and women are equally divided among them:

    1. No (or relatively little) flashes: a rare and LUCKY bunch!
    2. Early onset: flashes begin in perimenopause and decline soon after menopause
    3. Late onset: flashes begin during menopause and persist into postmenopause
    4. Super flashers: flashes begin in perimenopause and persist well after menopause

    As mentioned, the frequency, intensity, and overall duration of the hot flashes varies from one woman to the next; however, most of us experience the symptoms for a median of six months to two years, with a smaller percentage of super flashers reporting 10+ years of hot flashes.

    Although more women report daytime hot flashes, night sweats are often more bothersome. Which makes sense — when you’re sleeping, you can’t anticipate a hot flash like we can during the day, and thus take the necessary steps to mitigate it (e.g., shed layers, move to a cooler room, or crank up the A/C). So where does that leave you? Often, waking up drenched in sweat. What’s particularly frustrating is that a common trigger for hot flashes and night sweats is stress. So stress leads to night sweats which leads to poor sleep, which is stressful in and of itself and that makes it very difficult to manage said stress…you get the picture.

    If you’re suffering from night sweats that routinely disrupt your sleep — and especially if you qualify as a “super flasher” — consider talking with your healthcare provider or Elektra about viable remedies or medications that may relieve your symptoms (more on that below).

    MARGIT D. | COMMUNITY MEMBER

    “Although a hot flash is not a fun experience, the word “flash” suggests something super-heroic. As women of age and experience, with a lot of superpowers, that seems fitting.”

    Read Margit's story

    We'd love to hear your story. Share yours with the Elektra community today!

    Share my story

    What you can do

    We’re all about equipping you with the know-how to understand your symptoms, and we especially emphasize the specific, tangible ways to manage them. Our goal is to empower YOU to take charge of your menopause journey, starting today.

    A quick note about product recommendations…Elektra Health is not paid to feature any products. We just like them and think you might too, though we can’t guarantee any results.


    Lifestyle

    Nutrition & Diet

    Food can be used as a powerful tool to minimize hot flashes by supporting our hormone health (specifically cortisol and insulin). Below are specific foods that Elektra’s founding physician, Dr. Anna Barbieri, MD recommends, along with info on the science behind each:

    Soy

    Soy products such as tofu contain isoflavone compounds (genistein & daidzein) can help control hot flashes. It works by essentially mimicking natural estrogen. And no, moderate amounts of whole soy (edamame, soy milk, tofu, miso) do not increase breast cancer risk and are safe for women who have had breast cancer! Whole soy, however, may not be optimal for women with autoimmune conditions, but soy isoflavones can still be used. We recommend choosing organic soy whenever possible, as conventionally produced soy often comes from large farms with high pesticide and chemical use.

    Bonus points if the soy product is fermented (think tofu, miso, or tempeh).

    Flaxseed

    Like soy, ground flaxseed contains phytoestrogens may help reduce hot flashes. Add to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt — and be sure it’s ground! Consuming it in the whole seed or oil form does not deliver the same benefits.

    Legumes

    Legumes such as chickpeas and lentils are weaker sources of phytoestrogens and may help in reducing hot flashes. In fact, all beans can have a positive effect.

    Evidence points to the power of a whole-food, plant-heavy diet in reducing vasomotor symptoms both directly and indirectly by promoting cardiovascular health and weight loss. In fact, in a study of more than 17,000 women with baseline vasomotor symptoms, those who lost more than 10 pounds (or 10%+ of their baseline weight) were significantly more likely to have symptoms disappear compared to women who did not lose weight.

    While food can be a beneficial tool in mitigating hot flashes and night sweats, it can also do the opposite. Common triggers include:

    Spicy foods

    Exercise caution when it comes to late-night dinners that bring the heat! They can also, well, bring YOU the heat and cause full-body flushing.

    Alcohol

    While any alcohol can be a trigger, red wine is known to be particularly problematic. If you do choose to drink, try switching to white wine or a different beverage and enjoy your drink with food, earlier in the evening, and not right before bed. Or try a zero proof cocktail made from a Seedlip non-alcoholic spirit (watch Elektra’s take on mocktails here).

    Caffeine

    While the correlation between coffee and sleep is widely known, the effect your cup ‘o Jo has on hot flashes can be just as bothersome and a trigger for many. We recommend sticking with decaf when possible if caffeine is your trigger.


    Behavioral & Holistic Practices

    The following integrative, holistic therapies can be effective in managing and mitigating the symptoms of hot flashes.

    Mindfulness-based stress management

    While many alternative therapies haven’t been clinically studied, the impact of mindfulness-based yoga on stress and anxiety has — and the results are promising. Since stress has been identified as a hot flash trigger, it’s worth giving something like meditation or yoga a whirl — while recognizing, of course, that it takes time to cultivate a practice and begin reaping the benefits (this isn’t a “quick fix”).

    Paced breathing exercises

    The North American Menopause Society recommends paced respiration (slow deep breathing sustained for a specific period of time) as a behavioral treatment for hot flashes. To start, try for five minutes twice per day, with a target rate of 6-8 breaths per minute. If that works, try to get up to 15-minute sessions. It might feel a bit odd and unnatural at first, but stick with it, and it will become like second nature.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

    CBT involves working with a coach or therapist to recognize and change beliefs — including negative thoughts and worries — that may be triggering or exacerbating hot flashes. That’s the “cognitive” part. And then there’s the “behavioral” part, which helps you develop better habits and a mindset to improve the hot flash experience (vs the hot flash itself). It’s ideal for those looking to address underlying causes while working towards long-term management.

    Acupuncture & Acupressure

    Acupuncture is when extremely thin needles are inserted into the skin at strategic points (don’t worry — it doesn’t hurt!) and acupressure is when gentle pressure is used to stimulate certain points on your body. Both techniques have been studied in reducing hot flash severity and decreasing frequency (in addition to promoting sleep and reducing anxiety). A 2016 study, which compared an acupuncture group with a control group, found that hot flash frequency declined by 36% over six months with the acupuncture group, compared to just 6% with the control.

    Bedroom

    When it comes to night sweats, it’s important to keep your bedroom cool. Right around bedtime, our body temperature drops 1-2 degrees, which signals to our internal clock that it’s time to hit the hay. In doctor-speak, this is what’s called “thermoregulation.” We recommend keeping your bedroom at a cool 60 – 67°F and, if that’s not enough, trying the following (although there’s no clinical evidence in support of these techniques, anecdotal evidence is promising):

    • Cooling sheets made with bamboo, which effectively wicks moisture (read: sweat) from your skin
    • Cooling mattress pad or blanket, or a heated blanket for your bed partner (look into one with dual controls to accommodate your partner)
    • Cooling system for your bed that uses circulating water to maintain a consistent, cool temperature (e.g., this hydro-powered one from ChiliSleep)
    • A fan! Simple, low-cost, and effective

    Exercise

    Although exercise does not directly reduce vasomotor symptoms, it is beneficial for a slew of other symptoms that may indirectly affect hot flashes, such as sleep health and mood. We recommend taking up yoga to promote relaxation.


    Supplements & Over-the-Counter Solutions

    Supplements and over-the-counter solutions can be effective in supporting your sleep health…if you choose wisely. We recommend consulting with your healthcare provider first to ensure you’re using something with optimal efficacy and safety (i.e. backed by clinical research) or consulting with Elektra’s providers for medical advice. Here’s a quick primer from our team on how to go about selecting high-quality supplements.

    Several herbs and supplements have been studied for control of vasomotor symptoms; however, due to the studies’ small sample size and multiple variables, it’s impossible to make definitive claims on their efficacy and safety. That said, these four have the strongest record to date:

    Soy Isoflavones

    As mentioned above, soy isoflavones are phytoestrogens that work like estrogen would in the body. Derived from soybeans, this supplement has been shown in most research to help control hot flashes, although it may take several weeks to experience full results.

    Vitamin B6

    B6, which is one of eight B vitamins, has been shown to boost serotonin levels and, as a result, help minimize hot flashes.

    Black Cohosh

    Also known as rattleweed and bugbane, black cohosh is a perennial herb that belongs to the buttercup family and is occasionally used to treat symptoms of hot flashes, as well as vaginal dryness, moodiness, and excessive sweating. Side effects are rare but can include an upset stomach or rash.

    Swedish Flower Pollen

    Swedish flower pollen is an extract made from the pollen and pistils of a certain family of grasses. It helps hot flashes by acting directly on the temperature control area in the brain. This is not a phytoestrogen, and therefore frequently used by women with hormone-positive breast cancer. We like Relizen by Bonafide.

    Rhapontic Rhubarb (aka ER731)

    This extract from the root of the rhapontic rhubarb plant has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes. ER731 is not to be confused with the rhubarb we grow as a vegetable in spring for pies and jams.


    Prescriptions

    Hormonal

    Hormone replacement therapy is a viable choice for many women with vasomotor symptoms.

    Low-dose contraceptives

    Some doctors advise perimenopausal women to take low-dose birth control pills as a way to regulate hormones that impact our cycles, risk of ovarian/uterine cancer, bone loss, and hot flashes. Compared to typical birth control pills, which contain 10-50 micrograms of estrogen, estrogen prescribed to women for menopause may be ½ to ⅓ of that dose.

    Estrogen-only therapy (or combined estrogen & progestin therapy)

    The treatment with the highest reported rate of efficacy for hot flashes is estrogen-based hormone therapy, which comes in the form of a skin patch, gel, cream, spray, or pill. It’s proven effective and, as an added bonus, also helps with other symptoms of menopause like vaginal dryness and pain with sex. Estrogen-only therapy is generally for those who’ve had a hysterectomy. For those of us with a uterus, estrogen treatment is combined with another main female hormone, progesterone. That said, this treatment approach may come with potential increased risks of breast cancer, liver disease, and stroke for certain women. To learn more, refer to our full guide to hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

    Tissue selective estrogen complex

    Tissue selective estrogen complex involves a combination of selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) and estrogen, which is most often recommended to postmenopausal women for the joint purpose of vasomotor symptom treatment and osteoporosis prevention.


    Non-Hormonal

    Unable to consider hormonal therapies, or just not interested? Don’t worry, you won’t be left stranded on a hot flash island (no pun intended). There are 100% still options for you, including these non-hormonal pharmacologic solutions, which have been shown to be safe and effective in reducing the severity and frequency of hot flashes.

    SSRIs/SNRIs

    SSRIs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and SNRIs are serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors — total tongue-twisters! These neurotransmitters are typically used as antidepressants; however, they’re also effective in treating certain menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. They work by regulating serotonin (the “happy hormone” that controls mood) and norepinephrine (plays a key role in the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to stress). Some examples include escitalopram (Lexapro), sertraline (Zoloft), and venlafaxine (Effexor).

    Gabapentin

    Gabapentin is an anti-seizure medication also used to treat menopausal symptoms (e.g., vasomotor symptoms and sleep disruptions).


    We’re always keeping an eye out on emerging research and the latest clinical studies. Subscribe to our weekly Elektra Digest for the latest, science-based info direct to your inbox. Something work well for you that’s not listed here? We want to hear it! Shoot us a note at [email protected] (We’re human, promise.)


    Disclaimer: This information is for general educational purposes, and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem.

    As with anything you put into your body, taking dietary supplements can also involve health risks. You should consult a medical professional before taking supplements and inform your doctor about any supplements, as well as any medications you already take, since there may be interactions.

    References

    Expand to see more

    Learn more

    Sleep problems SYMPTOM
    Sleep problems
    Mood changes SYMPTOM
    Mood changes
    Anxiety SYMPTOM
    Anxiety

    Sign up. Get smart. Live well.

    Join our community for exclusive events, expert-led health & wellness programs and a weekly newsletter with cutting edge science & stories delivered straight to your inbox.

    We can't wait to meet you.

    Count me in!