4 Methods for Treating Hot Flashes During Perimenopause
Growing up, you might have heard your mother or aunts complaining about hot flashes during menopause, but one thing they may never have mentioned was perimenopause. Perimenopause is the period of your life before menopause, sometimes referred to as “menopause transition.”
For most women, perimenopause lasts for four years, but for some, it might last only a few months. For others, it could go on for a decade or longer.
During perimenopause, your body is starting to wind down estrogen production in preparation for menopause. This can result in hot flashes and other unpleasant symptoms.
Why doesn’t perimenopause get as much attention as menopause? It is hard to say, but it might have to do with the fact that it is difficult to tell when perimenopause has started. For most women, it begins sometime in their 40s, but for some, it may start as early as their 30s. There are even women who go into perimenopause during their 20s. Perimenopause symptoms may be mistaken for other hormonal imbalances.
Symptoms during perimenopause can vary quite a bit, but most women will have at least a few. As you might guess, they are for the most part similar to the symptoms of actual menopause:
- Hot flashes
- Reduction in sex drive
- Tenderness in the breasts
- Increases in PMS symptoms
- Irregularity in periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Urinary issues
- Mood swings
You are not actually defined as having entered menopause until you have gone at least 12 months without a period.
Despite that fact, you may feel like you are in menopause the entire time! While perimenopause symptoms are not all that intense for some women, for others, they can be extremely severe.
Because perimenopause does not get a lot of attention, it is not uncommon for women who experience severe hot flashes during this time to struggle to understand what is happening. You might think to yourself, “But I’m not going through menopause, so how can I be having menopause symptoms?” But it is all perfectly common and ordinary. If your symptoms are disrupting your life, it is time to seek treatment.
Avoid Hormone Replacement Therapy
You may feel desperate for relief from hot flashes during perimenopause, just as you would if you were menopausal. Your doctor may recommend hormone replacement therapy, often in the form of low-dose birth control pills.
It is best to avoid taking hormones. The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) has found that taking hormones can result in an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, and breast cancer.
4 Natural Treatments for Perimenopause Hot Flashes
So what can you do to treat your hot flashes if you cannot resort to hormone replacement therapy?
You can actually use many of the same natural treatments that you would if you were in full-on menopause. Just look at it as a situation where you need to start treating yourself for menopause symptoms early. Try the following remedies:
1. Balance your hormones using herbal supplements.
Regardless of whether you are still in perimenopause or whether you are in menopause, it all comes down to hormonal balance.
The decline of estrogen and progesterone in your body is responsible for causing many of your uncomfortable symptoms, including hot flashes.
While you should avoid using hormone replacement therapy to treat your declining estrogen and progesterone levels in perimenopause, you can use herbal supplements to stimulate your body’s production of both and/or replace your declining estrogen with healthy phytoestrogens (different herbs work through different mechanisms).
Which herbs can you try? Any of the following may be able to help you to reduce your hot flashes and control your other symptoms:
- Black cohosh
- Vitex (chasteberry)
- Red clover
- Dong Quai
- Wild yam
- St. John’s Wort
That is not a full list of possibilities; there are other options out there. You can try just one or two of these herbs, or you can buy a combined formula which includes a blend of ingredients. Your mileage may vary; you may notice results within the first few days, or you may need to wait a few weeks to really observe a change. Either way, you will get the best effects if you take your supplements consistently each day. Skipping days or weeks may result in your symptoms reasserting, especially in the beginning.
Many of these herbs also will continue to reduce your symptoms more and more if you take them over an extended time period. Vitex for example will create an improvement within the first few weeks, but if you take it for up to six months, you will notice ongoing improvements. The long-term effect can be dramatic.
2. Reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
It turns out that stress and anxiety can play a role in hot flashes. If you allow yourself to get really anxious about your hot flashes (or anything, for that matter), you might experience more of them, and they might be more intense too.
It can be difficult to relax when you are dealing with symptoms which are interfering with your quality of life, but you need to do what you can. Find activities which you find engrossing. Take extra time for leisure. And take heart in the knowledge that you are on the right track to getting your symptoms under control.
3. Get away from hot flash triggers.
There are a number of different triggers which can bring on hot flashes. You might be more susceptible to some triggers than you are to others. It may be helpful for you to start keeping a diary where you keep track.
Common hot flash triggers include:
- Stress and anxiety (as just mentioned)
- Spicy foods
- Tight clothing
Interestingly enough, many of these triggers are the same ones associated with heartburn. So if you suffer from heartburn (as so many people do), just follow roughly the same advice you would to prevent acid reflux. You should be able to kill two birds with one stone.
As far as avoiding heat goes, you should wear layers of clothing. That way you can always remove layers if you need to. You may also want to avoid taking super hot showers.
4. Cool down.
When you have a hot flash, doing something to help your body cool down will reduce the length and severity of the hot flash, and it will help you feel better right away. There are a lot of ideas for cooling down:
- Jump in the shower for a few minutes with the water at a cool temperature
- Open a window and let in some cool air from outdoors
- Use an ice pack
- Sip on some ice water
- Use a cooling towel, cooling pillow, cooling mattress pad, or similar product
Since hot flashes often happen during the night and lead to difficulties falling or staying asleep, it is useful to keep something near your bed to help you out. An ice pack or glass of ice water on your bedside table will save you from having to walk into the kitchen in the middle of the night. The less your sleep is disrupted, the better.
Conclusion: Hot Flashes During Perimenopause Can Be Overwhelming, But You Can Find Relief
When you first start experiencing hot flashes, you may be nowhere near menopause (remember, perimenopause can go on for a decade or more). So you probably are going to feel discouraged, angry, and alarmed. After all, if your hot flashes are this bad now, how are you ever going to deal with the long wait for menopause—and then menopause itself?
But this really is not the best way to look at it. Instead, why not take the encouraging view?
Yes, your perimenopause symptoms may have kicked in sooner than you would like, giving you what feels like an early admission ticket to those fun years of menopause. But look at it this way—they also have given you an early start to learning how to manage and reduce those symptoms—before they get really out of hand.
So by the time you actually reach menopause, you may actually have a good handle on your hot flashes, migraines, fatigue, and mood swings. You may already be adept at balancing your hormones and treating your symptoms before they swing out of control.
That means when you do start menopause, you may actually have an easier time of it than a lot of your friends. You might even be able to help some of your friends to manage their own symptoms by sharing your experiences and all you have learned. So look at this as an opportunity. You might be having a harder time of it now, but it could just mean that you’ll be ready for smooth sailing when you do reach menopause.