Women in perimenopause should eat well and get enough sleep, says pharmacist Marla Ahlgrimm, but there are several other ways to head off hot flashes before you feel the heat. Here, Marla Ahlgrimm, the pharmacist who taught the world about PMS in the 1970s, answers questions about hot flashes, flushes, and fending them off.
Q. What is a hot flash?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: It’s a temporary feeling of heat all over the body. It may be accompanied by sweating and facial flushing.
Q. How long do they last?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Some women have hot flashes from before menopause that last forever. However, some women may never experience them.
Q. What causes hot flashes?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Doctors do not completely understand what causes them but many speculate that it has something to do with hormonal changes and their effects on the hypothalamus.
Q. Do hot flashes happen during the day or at night?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Both, in fact, some women report only experiencing hot flashes at night while others have them spontaneously around the clock.
Q. What causes flushing?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Blood vessels in the skin dilating to help the body cool.
Q. How can I avoid hot flashes altogether?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: There is no guaranteed way to prevent hot flashes.
Q. Can stress trigger a hot flash?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: It definitely can; many women report having more frequent occurrences during times of elevated stress.
Q. Can I still drink coffee, tea, and other hot beverages while fighting hot flashes?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Yes, but be aware that the heat from the liquid could be a trigger. As well, caffeine and other stimulants, including alcohol, may aggravate your symptoms.
Q. How should I dress to reduce the warmth of a hot flash?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Layers are a must for women experiencing frequent flashes and cotton is highly recommended.
Q. What about night sweats? How can I combat these when they often interrupt my sleep?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Use a lighter blanket and remove any mattress covers or feather tops from your bed and run a fan to keep cool air circulating throughout the night.
Q. Is exercise causing my hot flashes?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Not likely as keeping active is known to help lower the severity of hot flashes in most women.
Q. What about hormone replacement therapy?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: A short-term course of HRT may help reduce or eliminate hot flashes and many other symptoms of menopause. Consult with your physician for more information.
Q. Do the foods I eat affect my tendency to experience hot flashes?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Yes, they can, and certain foods, such as Indian, Tai, and Mexican cuisine, should be consumed in moderation during peak flash times.
Q. I’ve heard that there are botanical treatments for hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. Is that true?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: There are a number of plant based supplements including Evening Primrose Oil, black cohosh, and Dong quai but these should only be considered after medical consultation.
Q. Is estrogen still used in HRT therapy?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Yes, natural estrogen is still the most common hormone therapy for severe or disruptive hot flashes.
Q. What about hydration; do I need to drink more water during menopause/perimenopause?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Yes, it can be helpful since the body needs water to regulate.
Q. Should I alter my outdoor activities during this time?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: You should avoid strenuous activities if you have been having hot flashes. As well, you should limit your time in the sun and shy away from the hot tub and sauna.
Q. What’s the best way to reduce the effect of hot flashes on my daily life?
Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.: Stay as healthy as possible. If you eat the right foods, get ample sleep, and exercise regularly, your hot flashes should be less intense. Plus, you’ll feel better overall.
For more information about Marla Ahlgrimm including links to published works and current blog entries, visit her personal website at marlaahlgrimm.com. Marla Ahlgrimm is a registered pharmacist and member of the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, the Langer Society of the Arts, and the UW School of Pharmacy Board of Visitors. A renowned public speaker, Marla Ahlgrimm has been a featured presenter at TEMPO, the Women’s Sexual Health Physician Symposium, and the Washington Business Group of Health, among others. In addition to her civic and professional associations, Marla Ahlgrimm is the author of The HRT Solution – Optimizing Your Hormone Potential and Self-Help for Premenstrual Syndrome.