Hot flushes on average last for four or five years and occur in up to 80 percent of women – though those on a vegetarian diet seem to fare better with fewer or no flushes at menopause.
Why do women flush?
We know exactly what a hot flush is – but despite many advances in science no one quite knows what causes our temperature to soar and makes us sweaty and uncomfortable. Also it is not confined to menopause as many women experience it in pregnancy, after chemotherapy and men too can experience them if they are oestrogen dominant, or again after treatment for prostate cancer.
A team of researchers in the department of pathology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine believe they may have come closer to understanding the mechanism however. It seems it may be related to a group of brain cells known as KNDy neurons as a likely control switch of hot flushes. KNDy neurons (are located in the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain controlling vital functions that also serves as the switchboard between the central nervous system and hormone signals. It seems these neurons play extremely important roles in how the body controls its energy resources, reproduction and temperature.
When you have a flush, your skin gets hot and you can see the redness of the skin. This is the body’s attempt to get rid of heat, just like sweating. Except that if you were to measure your body’s core temperature at that point, you would find it is not even elevated – however much it may feel as if you are within a fiery furnace.
This is just an experiment on rats so far, but we already know from other branches of science that our minds have a powerful effect on our bodies. Staying calm during a flush is not always easy, but it will make a difference as stress is a major trigger so taking a deep breath, and having a cold drink will help.
How to help yourself
It is very common for the temperature control mechanism to be upset during menopause when the levels of both oestrogen and progesterone are falling. It seems as if it is the changes and fluctuations in the hormone levels, rather than the levels of the hormones themselves, that cause a disturbance which leads to a hot flush.
The role of progesterone in helping to control flushes is not well acknowledged, but certainly is effective and for flushing and many women have found a combination cream of progesterone and oestrogen can really help if these are severe.
As progesterone rebalances the hormones the symptoms come under control, but some women do find that they get fast relief from flushes by applying the cream during a flush or sweat to the inner wrist where the skin is thinner, and also to make the last application of the day immediately before going to bed as many have reported this has helped with sleep issues.
Don’t underestimate the role that stress can play in promoting a flush so try and watch out for your own personal triggers and minimise or eliminate them if you can.
Exercise when you are already feeling hot may not seem like a plan, but definitely regular exercise does seem to help in reducing flushes. It doesn’t have to be that energetic, just walking can start to bring the temperature down, just make sure you stay hydrated and wear loose, comfortable clothes.
Food allergies, including alcohol, can also bring on a flush so notice if you get one after eating or drinking something specific so you can avoid it and see if that makes a difference.