It's the M word. Some women hate it, some women welcome it: menopause. However you feel about it, if you're a woman, it's going to happen to you at some point.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
It's quite interesting to hear women talk about their experiences with perimenopause, the time when the menstrual flow is shutting down, and menopause, the period after menstruation has stopped. Some women breeze through this time without any noticeable discomfort, while others are hit with everything that their body can throw at them.
Among the most common complaints from women "of a certain age" are the hot flashes, or hot flushes. Again, not all women find them uncomfortable, but for many - these hot flashes are not only uncomfortable, they are nasty.
But what exactly is a hot flash? No one knows quite for sure, but the easiest way to explain it is that your body's thermostat has gone haywire for a while. One theory is that a woman's dropping level of estrogen may throw off the hypothalmus, the body's temperature regulator.
I love this definition of a hot flash, from WebMD: "A hot flash -- sometimes called a hot flush -- is a momentary sensation of heat that may be accompanied by a red, flushed face and sweating. The cause of hot flashes is not known, but may be related to changes in circulation."
Really? Momentary? Tell that to some women who minding their own business, doing their jobs, perhaps sitting in a board room meeting or driving a bus, and they are suddenly overwhelmed with a hot flash that just won't stop.
What to do?
So, if you do have hot flashes, what can you do to lessen their frequency and/or severity. Is there anything? The good news is that there are some things that help some women. The bad news is you may have to do a lot of trial and error to find something that works for you.
Here are some of the more common suggestions:
- Limit your alcohol intake and watch if certain alcoholic beverages trigger more hot flashes. Some Women find red wine is a big trigger, but they can drink white wine with few resulting hot flashes;
- Don't smoke;
- Avoid meals that are heavy or spicy. Eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large ones;
- Drink cold drinks instead of hot drinks;
- Dress in layers, preferably cotton fabrics.
That last point brings up a press release issued today by Penn State researchers, who undertook a study looking at menopause and exercise. The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
According to the researchers, "menopausal women who exercise may experience fewer hot flashes in the 24 hours following physical activity." They came to this conclusion after studying 92 menopausal women who were between 40 and 59 years old. They were not on any hormone therapy at the time of the study.
Over 15 days, the women wore accelerometers that monitored how much physical activity they performed and a monitor that measured the moisture on their skin. The women also recorded if and when they experienced hot flashes throughout the day.
Since exercise tends to make people feel warmer, it wouldn't be odd to suspect that exercise may make hot flashes worse, but the researchers found that this didn't happen. In fact, on average, the women in the study who exercised the most experienced fewer hot flashes after afterward. "The women who were classified as overweight, having a lower level of fitness, or were experiencing more frequent or more intense hot flashes, noticed the smallest reduction in symptoms," the press release said.
"For women with mild to moderate hot flashes, there is no reason to avoid physical activity for the fear of making symptoms worse," said Steriani Elavsky, assistant professor of kinesiology at Penn State. "In fact, physical activity may be helpful, and is certainly the best way to maximize health as women age."
Some hot flash good news?
As uncomfortable as hot flashes may be, they may be good for something. According to a study published last year, researchers found - among the estimated 60,000 women they studied - that women who experienced hot flashes and night sweats while going into menopause had an 11 percent lower risk of developing heart disease later on in life. In addition, they had an eight percent lower chance of dying over the 10 years following the study. You can read more about it in this Time magazine article: The Hot Flashes of Menopause May Protect Women's Hearts, by Alice Park.
Do you have hot flashes? Do they bother you? How do you manage them?