Menstruation or periods are an integral part of every girl/woman’s life. A period is basically the shedding of the lining of the uterus. Menstruation is a sign of a girl getting close to the end of puberty and marking the beginning of reproductive years. After a certain age, the periods end with menopause. For most women, menopause starts between the ages of 45 and 55 years. However, for some women early menopause onset before 45 years (early menopause) or even 40 at times (premature menopause). This could happen due to genetics, illness, or medical procedures.
Women going through early or premature menopause have to deal with hot flashes, mood swings, and other menopause symptoms along with additional physical and emotional concerns. Premature menopause symptoms are more or less the same as those of natural menopause. These symptoms indicate that the ovaries are producing less estrogen.
Some of these symptoms include:
- Missed or irregular periods
- Heavier or lighter than usual periods
- Hot flashes
One of the most common symptoms of early menopause are hot flashes. It’s described as a sudden feeling of heat, sweating, and at times a red, flushed face. Hot flashes begin when the blood vessels close to the surface of the skin widen to cool off, leaving a person broke out in a sweat. Some women even experience a rapid heart rate or chills. Hot flashes are also referred to as night sweats when they occur while the person is asleep, making the person wake up and deprived of adequate rest. They also tend to affect women who begin menopause after chemotherapy or have had surgery to remove their ovaries.
For some women, hot flashes can be barely noticeable or just be a minor annoyance to them while for others, the intensity may affect their quality of life in a rather negative way.
Hot flashes often tend to appear suddenly but sometimes you may feel them coming on. Some of the signs that one is likely to experience in the case of hot flashes include:
- Tingling in fingers
- Heart beating faster than usual
- Skin feeling warm suddenly
- Face getting red or flushed
- Sweating, especially in the upper body
Not only is the occurrence of hot flashes sudden and uncertain but even their duration is. How long a single hot flash lasts, varies. While some hot flashes occur only for some seconds and past after that, a long hot flash can go on even for over 10 minutes. On average, hot flashes are reported to last for about 4 minutes. The frequency of hot flashes also differs. While some women might go through hot flashes every week, some other may experience multiple hot flashes just in an hour.
The causes of hot flashes are also not known distinctly. It is not even certain what causes them but it is also thought that they may be related to changes in circulation. However, there has been evidence that hot flashes happen as a result of hormonal changes in the body. Obesity and metabolic syndrome are believed to increase the incidence of hot flashes but their connection to other health problems, such as diabetes, is being studied.
Since the causes of hot flashes are not very clearly known, there’s not much that one can do to avoid them either. But there are certain triggers that may make them more frequent or more severe, and thus can be kept away from. Some of these common triggers are:
- Increased salt intake
- Tight clothing
- Cigarette smoke
One can, however, not deny that prevention in whatever manner is always better than the cure and taking small precautionary steps or making some lifestyle choices can certainly make as much or more impact on one’s body as any medication or supplement consumed. Just like no two women are alike, neither are the ways their bodies react to treatments for hot flashes. But that must not stop a woman from trying the possible ways out in consultation with her doctor. It must also be noted that living a healthy lifestyle can not only reduce the incidence and severity of hot flashes but also, decrease the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Being mindful in some of the following ways can help in improving health:
- Eat a well-balanced diet and keep a check on the portion size
- Exercise regularly in the form of walking, swimming, bicycling, and dancing, etc.
- Avoid smoking, and stay away from secondhand smoke as well
- Keep your surroundings cool. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothes made with natural fibers like cotton
- Practice deep, slow breathing in the morning, in the evening, and also when a hot flash starts
- Plant estrogens, found in soy products, can have weak estrogen-like effects that could cut hot flashes
By: Dr. Jyoti Kala, Consultant- Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road