27 Dec 2022

Help for hot flushes

Hot flushes and night sweats are two of the most common and troubling symptoms of the menopause.  But why do some women experience them when others don't, what is the impact on our mental and physical health and what effect do these symptoms have on our relationships both at home and in the workplace? 

Katie discusses causes and treatment options with Dr Naomi Potter who holds advanced certification from the British Menopause Society and believes passionately, as we do, that women should have access to clear, evidence-based information to help them make informed choices on managing the perimenopause and menopause.

Listen to the full conversation in The Latte Lounge podcast episode above.

What are hot flushes and night sweats?

Hot flushes are stereotypical of the menopause and a symptom that most people have heard about.

Although people joke about them, they can have a huge impact on women and are often embarrassing and uncomfortable especially if they occur at work or in public.

What tends to happen is a very hot feeling in your core which travels up, makes you very red in the face due to your blood vessels expanding, and causes sweating. Night sweats are very similar but (as the name suggests) happen at night.

Often you are asleep when they occur and the first thing you’re aware of is waking up feeling freezing cold because you’ve been sweating so excessively that you’re drenched and then can’t get back to sleep by the time you’ve got up and changed yourself, and in extreme cases, the bedclothes.

The knock-on effect of the resulting lack of sleep only serves to exaggerate the effect of this symptom.

RELATED ARTICLE: Sleep tips to tackle menopausal insomnia and night sweats

What triggers hot flushes or makes them worse?

It is thought that oestrogen has a direct effect on the hypothalamus which is the part of your brain that controls temperature regulation.

When hormone levels decline during perimenopause and menopause, this can trigger a malfunction and your body is tricked into thinking it’s cold when it’s actually not. 

There are certain things which are known to trigger hot flushes and with these in mind, there are lifestyle changes we can make to help keep them under control.

Drinking alcohol, for example, eating spicy food, smoking and exercise can all exacerbate them.

hot flushes

We need to exercise, are some methods better than others if you suffer hot flushes?

Exercise is important for overall health and wellbeing.

Sometimes, however, if you exercise in a way that raises your metabolic rate you can trigger flushes.

Some women don’t find this to be as much of a problem because everyone at the gym is sweating anyway but if you find them too unpleasant even in this situation then gentle exercise such as yoga may be preferable.

Some women find CBT helpful in reducing the impact on your life, it won’t stop the flushes but can help greatly in coping with the effects.

What should you wear if you suffer from hot flushes?

Layers will be helpful, especially in natural, breathable fibres.

If you can, wear loose-fitting rather than tight-fitting clothes and you may find avoiding lighter colours makes sweating less obvious.

If you wear a uniform for work, do speak to whoever is in charge of your menopause policy and ask if there are any adjustments you can make to your uniform to make you more comfortable.

Small things can make a difference, sitting by an open window or remote working in the short term may be helpful if possible.

What medical treatments are there for those who can’t or don’t want to take HRT

HRT works almost invariably. There are other medical options that can help, such as particular antidepressants and drugs like Oxybutynin which is prescribed for bladder overactivity.

There is also a new medication being trialled which is non-hormonal and could potentially be very helpful.

RELATED ARTICLE: Heart health & menopause: hot flushes are more than an inconvenience says leading Yale professor

heart health menopause professor sarrel

Professor Philip Sarrel told us at the Midlife Festival that hot flushes are more than just an inconvenience but actually a risk factor or warning sign for cardiovascular disease and other conditions such as poor brain health. He suggested a check-up on our cholesterol levels before 60. Why is this so important? 

We know that oestrogen is protective in terms of heart and bone health. Pre-menopausal women don’t tend to have any kind of cardiovascular disease because their oestrogen levels protect their heart and muscles.

After menopause when we lose our oestrogen, is when we tend to have a problem so HRT is protective from a cardiovascular point of view.

We know that cholesterol, smoking, excessive alcohol, lack of exercise and poor diet with high sugar intake all fur up our arteries. If we exercise, reduce alcohol and eat well, we can reduce that risk.

What is your best advice for the employers and partners of people experiencing hot flushes and night sweats who want to be supportive?

It’s about open dialogue and providing a judgement-free environment.

You should look after your employees anyway but it makes good business sense to look after your highly valuable, highly skilled resources rather than pay the cost of absenteeism and recruitment and it’s not hard.

Have a menopause policy in place, welcome requests for reasonable adjustments and make it an open dialogue and a no-joke culture. 

In the same way for friends, partners and family, these symptoms can be debilitating and certainly not a joke, just provide support and empathy.  

Does anyone just get through menopause without needing treatment?

Some women can settle into menopause quickly with very few symptoms but it’s impossible to predict who they may be. Ask for support if you need it.

Tell us about your book

The book is called ‘Menopausing’ and was written with Davina McCall. It’s a guide to the menopause and perimenopause but also tells lots of women’s real-life stories. They are all real experiences shared by real women so it’s very relatable and encourages people to seek help and not go through it all alone. It is available from Amazon and Waterstones and also an audio version.

Discover more: Listen to more of The Latte Lounge podcast episodes - and don't forget to subscribe / follow to be notified of future episodes!

Help for hot flushes with Menopause Specialist Dr Naomi Potter

In this episode, Katie speaks to Menopause Specialist, Dr Naomi Potter about hot flushes, their cause and what we can do about them. Dr. Naomi Potter qualified as a doctor in 2003 after first achieving a master's degree in psychology. After 16 years practising as a GP for the NHS, she now specialises solely in menopause care and treatments.

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