You never know when one is going to hit you. One minute you’re completely fine, the next you’re drenched, uncomfortable and looking more like Alice Cooper than the polished professional you were moments before.
Hot flushes (or ‘flashes’ depending where you are in the world) are probably the best-known ‘poster girl’ symptom of the perimenopause and menopause.
Before you have one yourself, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. You just get a bit warm right? But oh no, here’s what hot flushes actually feel like...
It may come on suddenly or build up – but it’s a feeling of intense heat. Like you’ve been plonked under a sunbed. On average, flushes leave you in peace after four minutes, but some can shift in seconds or last as long as ten minutes.
As well as a red face, neck and chest, warm skin and upper body sweating, your heart might beat irregularly and your fingers may tingle. And if you add night sweats and changes in blood pressure to the list, it ain’t much fun.
The severity of symptoms really depends on the person and where you are on your menopausal journey. Although 75% of women will get hot flushes, some blink and miss a few a week, while others can have several hot and heavy sessions an hour.
They can start a few months or years before your periods stop (before you start the menopause) and can continue for several years after.
But what causes hot flushes? Nobody knows exactly, but it’s clear that they are connected to hormonal changes that affect your body’s thermostat.
Type ‘hot flushes’ into Google and a million cartoons pop up. But, in reality, because they can be so random, disruptive and embarrassing, if you’re experiencing one it’s unlikely to be a laughing matter.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are things you can do to help you reduce hot flushes and improve your quality of life.
What causes hot flushes apart from the menopause? Well, you may be able to reduce the frequency of your flushes if you figure out your triggers. Everyone’s different of course but common culprits include alcohol, caffeine, smoking and spicy foods.
Try eliminating these things one at a time to see if it has an effect. We don’t want to sound like a fun sponge – but there’s no point having a curry and a few glasses of wine on a Friday night if it ends up making you feel worse.
You may also want to investigate adding a supplement to your diet – sage extract is lauded by many women for banishing hot flushes, night sweats and excessive sweating.
BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU BEND
Now, we’re not suggesting you remain as perpendicular as a meerkat at all times but there is evidence that bending over can bring on hot flushes.
It’s time to put your learnings from years of Manual Handling inductions to good use. Wherever you can, use your knees and thighs to bend down and pick things up instead of your back. You never know, you could have a bum like Kylie by the time you’re sixty.
WATCH YOUR WEIGHT
I know, I know. We keep saying this. But maintaining a healthy weight helps lessen the severity of so many perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.
Obesity and metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity) are thought to increase the likelihood of hot flushes. Their connection to other health problems like diabetes is also being studied.
Take a look at our page on weight gain to pick up more information and advice.
Perimenopause and menopause can bring on or heighten feelings of anxiety. So, the better you process or avoid stress, the more chance you have of balancing your body’s thermostat.
It’s really worth taking some time for yourself and finding new ways to relax that help your system ride out this hormonally wonky time. Did you draw, sing or ride a bike as a kid? Distract your brain by taking yourself back to hobbies that help your mind flow calmly again.
CHOOSE YOUR LAYERS
Practically, it’s better to wear thin layers you can peel off if needs be, rather than one thick jumper that leaves you with the option of feeling hot and soggy or showing everyone your bra.
It will also help if you avoid tight clothes. Keep things as airy and comfortable as you can. If you fancy treating yourself, check out these brands which all stock clothing designed to help keep you cool, calm and collected.
If all else fails, invest in some quality make-up brands you can rely on when the going gets hot.
Reassess your beauty kit. Waterproof mascara, a light-weight matte foundation and a handy compact to blot and reset yourself after a flush can make all the difference.
HINTS AND TIPS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SUPPORT SOMEONE THEY THINK MAY BE ENTERING OR IN MENOPAUSE
While you can’t stop their hot flush once it’s started, there’s plenty you can do to help them deal with them in their own way. Put these top tips into practice.
OUR ADVICE TO THEM
We’ve suggested that they avoid possible triggers like alcohol, caffeine, smoking and spicy foods. It will also help if they maintain a healthy weight and find ways to de-stress.
They could also invest in some waterproof make-up and layer their clothing so they can whip things off to keep cool if needs be.
The last thing someone needs when they’re dealing with a hot flush is for someone to draw attention to it by asking loudly in public: “Are you OK love, you’re a bit sweaty.”
Instead, ask them if there’s anything you can do to help before any social situations. And please, don’t try to lighten the mood by making a joke about it. They might put on a brave face, but nine times out of 10 it’s not funny for them.
ASK THEM TO EXPLAIN
Don’t assume you know what their hot flushes feel like. Gently ask them to explain the effect it is having on them physically and emotionally.
You may not be able to do anything to make them feel better. But they may not want answers, they may just need to talk – and be properly heard. Switch your listening ears on and give them your full attention.
HAND OVER CONTROL OF THE HEATING
Okay, so you may end up needing to pull on an extra layer or the opposite and find yourself walking round the house in your undies clutching a battery-powered fan.
But allowing them to set the temperature to what they are most comfortable at can work wonders for hot flushes, cold flashes and harmony within the household. It’s not forever (and if it’s the former, imagine how much you’ll save on the heating bill.)
CREATE A WEEKLY MEAL PLAN
With hot flushes, certain foods may set them off. Planning meals ahead is a good way to get an overview of what you’re eating, avoid those trigger foods and manage weight too, while shopping for the ingredients together and sharing the cooking can take the pressure off.
You could even sign up for a cookery class to learn some new culinary skills.
SUGGEST A SUPPLEMENT
Some people find sage extract particularly useful for managing hot flushes.
STUB OUT SMOKING
Did you know that if you decide to quit together you are almost six times more likely* to kick nicotine than going it alone?
Help them say goodbye to cigarettes forever by ditching the smokes too. You can then keep each other going, avoid temptation and bash those cravings on the nose.
*Research by the Imperial College London
If you’re worried about hot flushes, you should see your GP who can discuss your symptoms in the context of the menopause.
If you'd like more information, we have put some further references below for you.