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Healthy Aging

Hot Flashes Getting You Down? Here's a Reason to Feel Up

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 02/08/2011
Last Updated: 08/15/2012

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I get emails about a lot of health issues. The most common ones concern age-related weight gain. Second to those are the emails about hot flashes. Yes, soon enough we’re all in this together. We all get one, or both. Rare is the mid-aged woman who escapes their grip.

It's different for everyone, of course. My sister swears she got nary a hot flash when she went through menopause. Not a single one. Too bad that wasn’t genetic: I, who was always freezing, was suddenly hot, even on winter's most frigid days. Coat? Who needed a coat? I packed away every single sweater I owned (with the exception of a couple of cotton cardigans that I could easily put on and pull off). And I got myself one of those lacy, colorful fans that you're used to associating with Spanish Flamenco dancers.

I was hardly alone; in fact, I was in the company of about 85% other women who experience hot flashes as they approach menopause and for up to a year or two after their periods stop. Here's a surprising fact: hot flashes can cause your body's temperature to rise by as much as 10 degrees. It's only now – 3 years after passing through menopause – that my heavy sweaters are making a comeback, albeit very slowly. My personal thermostat is beginning to right itself.

But now there's news that might make you feel grateful for those hot flashes. Researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have found that women who have experienced hot flashes – and other symptoms of menopause – may have a 50 percent lower risk of developing the most common forms of breast cancer than postmenopausal women who have never had such symptoms.

According to the study's senior author, the greater the number and severity of these symptoms, the greater the protective effect appeared. He states, "In particular, we found that women who experienced more intense hot flushes – the kind that woke them up at night – had a particularly low risk of breast cancer."

The hypothesis behind this is that hot flashes and night sweats cause hormone levels to fluctuate and drop, thus decreasing estrogen levels.

Knowing the triggers – and thus avoiding them as much as possible – helps make the hot flashes less frequent and/or severe. The biggest trigger I found was stress. Any time I began to feel the least bit of it – there it was – that intense heat that made me feel as though my entire body was bound tightly in a heating pad turned onto its highest setting. Other triggers include:

•    alcohol
•    caffeine
•    spicy food
•    hot food
•    hot weather
•    smoking
•    hot tubs & saunas
•    hot showers

So, let me ask those of you of the hot-flash variety: does the news that having hot flashes decreases your risk of breast cancer make you happy? Does it help you cope just a wee bit better with wet sheets and sweaty shirts?

I hope so. But if not, those lacy fans are relatively inexpensive.

And they make you look quite exotic, too.

You may also want to read:
From the NYTimes: Antidepressant May Help Quench Hot Flashes

From our archives: Could It Be Menopause?
Managing Menopause Symptoms

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I'm not there yet, but thanks for the tips. I'm picking out a Spanish fan as we speak.

That fan saved me many times. Hope you find a pretty one!

Does the same apply to night sweats? I get those but not hot flashes

Something tells me yes, since (at least in my case), the whole process started with night sweats.

Not really looking forward to this upcoming phase of life. Sigh.

I think I only had one warm flash. That's lucky, except for the cancer risk, which I hadn't been aware of.

Only one? Nice. Wish I could claim the same thing :)

What an interesting correlation. I get hot-flashes when it's that time of the month. I wonder if it means I'm less at risk as well?

That's a great question, Stephanie. Wonder that myself...gives me something to investigate.

I am having hot flashes and night sweats something fierce, so it's nice to hear about an upside. I have cancer in my immediate family and fear it, so it's reassuring to know this might give me some protection. Thanks!

Maybe it'll help you the next time one hits if you think about this!

So hot flashes might be good? Huh, I haven't experienced one yet but I have a friend who's told me horror stories.

Oh, your poor friend. Some just get it worse than others.

I've watched my friends suffer thru hot flashes and have great empathy; it looks so uncomfortable. Thanks for the advice here, which I'll pass along.

Hi Sheryl I am 59 this year I started the the perimenopause at 47 and survived it with natural remedies until 52 it got so bad that i succumed to HRT which has really been perfect for me I have a dual tablet of 14 days estrogen & 14 days days progesterone which gave me regular periods with no pain for a few days that I am happy with. for the last few months the periods are not very light and only last a day or two I have decided to stop HRT but straight away the hot flashes are back I am going to try the holistic approach again please can you give me your opinion I am afraid that I have just delayed the inevitable

Five years later and I’m curious how you Are doing. I too started at 47 and now I’m 51 and my hot flashes haven’t subsided. I’m hoping I’m in the final stretch but it Doesn’t feel like it. 


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