Skip to main content

How to Cool Down Those Hot Flashes 

It's late at night, and you’re wide awake drenched in sweat with heat coursing through your body. While your heart is racing, you’re wondering, “What is happening? Is it the summer heat, or did I just experience a hot flash?”

If this scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone. About 60-80% of women in their midlife experience hot flashes (also known as vasomotor symptoms) during perimenopause and menopause, a natural time when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and menstruation eventually ends.

“All women go through menopause; it is not considered a disease but rather a normal life event,” says Molly Beck, DNP, a women’s health nurse practitioner at University of Utah Health. “Midlife is traditionally a busy, chaotic time in a woman’s life, with children still at home and careers thriving. However, it’s imperative to remember that your body is changing, similar to puberty or pregnancy. This new ‘you’ takes active adjustment, and it’s important to seek medical care for symptoms that are disruptive or affecting your quality of life.”

What exactly is a hot flash?

Various medical conditions can cause hot flashes, but it is most commonly the first telltale sign of perimenopause. To this day, the underlying mechanism behind hot flashes is not fully understood, particularly because some women don’t experience them at all. However, researchers do know these internal heat waves occur when rapidly fluctuating hormones throw off the body's highly complex internal thermostat.

Common symptoms include:

  • Intense heat coursing through the chest, neck, and face
  • A rapid heart rate and a sudden wave of anxiety
  • A flushed appearance with red, blotchy skin
  • Profuse sweating (known as “night sweats”) while sleeping
  • Post-hot flash chills due to an excessive loss of body heat

Note: Episodes typically last 30 seconds to five minutes and can reoccur multiple times per day.

How can hormone therapy help?

Menopause Hormone Therapy (MHT) is known as the gold standard for managing hot flashes and many other menopausal symptoms. This prescription medication includes estrogen and progesterone (the same hormones normally produced by ovaries during reproductive years) to regulate the body’s hormonal rhythm.

“MHT is the first-line treatment for distressing and disruptive vasomotor symptoms, with FDA-approval dating back to the 1940s,” Beck says. “In addition to treating menopausal symptoms, MHT can also prevent osteoporosis and reduce your risks for diabetes, colorectal cancer, and dementia.”

As with many prescription medications, MHT is not recommended for everyone. If you have a history of certain types of cancer, blood clots, stroke, or heart disease, talk to your doctor about your risks and alternative treatment options.

What else can I do to cool down?

Lifestyle changes coupled with MHT can significantly alleviate those uncomfortable, sweaty episodes. Here are a few healthy habits that can help you keep your cool:

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol
  • Avoid spicy foods
  • Wear cool and breathable clothing
  • Carry a portable fan
  • Stay out of the hot sun
  • Exercise daily and eat a healthy diet

Beck also recommends practicing self-care and relaxation techniques to manage anxiety, which has a way of triggering hot flashes. Some options include:

  • Mindfulness: This is a type of meditation that involves staying in the present moment and being in tune with your senses and feelings. Techniques include breathing exercises and guided imagery.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is a form of talk therapy designed to change thinking and behavioral patterns. CBT is an effective tool for treating a host of mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.
  • Clinical Hypnosis: Also known as hypnotherapy, this treatment option changes a patient's state of awareness and increases relaxation. Under the guidance of a trained health care provider, hypnosis can help you cope better with anxiety and pain.

Don’t suffer in silence 

Every woman will experience perimenopause and menopause differently, similar to the varying experiences of women during pregnancy or postpartum. Some may experience minimal symptoms while others may be struggling with daily disruptions. If your symptoms infringe upon your daily life, talk to your doctor about treatment. Keep in mind that hot flashes can persist for five to seven years—and even longer. That’s a long time to white-knuckle it on your own.

“Menopause and the loss of the hormones estrogen and progesterone can affect every body system,” Beck says. “Your symptoms are not just in your head. If you are struggling, please know that you are not alone. Health care professionals who specialize in menopause will listen to you and, more importantly, believe you.”