They come and go at their whim, leaving you sweaty and red-faced in their wake. Some pass quickly, and others linger for as long as 30 minutes; they can occur several times a day, and even wake you up at night. We're talking about hot flashes - the most common menopause-related symptom, affecting as many as three out of four women.
Simple changes in lifestyle (avoiding triggers and dressing in layers) can help manage mild hot flashes.
For more severe ones, menopausal hormone treatment works best, but it's not for everyone: Research has shown it may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer in some women.
Research suggests hot flashes may last an average of 10 years or more, so scientists continue to search for effective, non-hormone therapies.
Here are some of the latest findings; talk to your doctor to see if one of these options is right for you.
Go under the needles
Acupuncture may help ease hot flashes, as well as other symptoms of menopause, according to a small recent study. Researchers in Turkey divided a group of 53 postmenopausal women - about half received traditional Chinese acupuncture twice a week, the others were given sham treatments. After 10 weeks, the women who got the real needles had significantly less severe hot flashes and mood swings than the control group. Another study on more than 200 women in Norway showed similar results.
It's a technique that teaches you to observe your thoughts and feelings instead of reacting to them. A study published in the journal Menopause found that women who took mindfulness-training classes once a week for eight weeks were less bothered by hot flashes; they also slept better at night, had less stress, and reported an overall improved quality of life, according to scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. To find a class in your area, visit www.umassmed.edu/cfm/mbsr.
Combine cool thoughts and hypnosis
Picturing chilly mountains, water or snow before a hypnotherapy session dramatically decreased hot flashes in breast cancer survivors, found a Baylor University study. This adds to previous Baylor research that found hypnotic relaxation therapy reduced hot flashes by 68%. The new findings may suggest that when women suffering from hot flashes imagine a cool place, they may also feel cool rather that the heat of the hot flash, says scientists.
Low doses of certain antidepressants-such as Paxil, Prozac, and Effexor-have been found to relieve hot flashes; a new study adds Lexapro to the list. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found 55 percent of the women taking Lexapro saw their hot flashes drop by 50 percent or more. Taking antidepressants may cause unwanted side effects, such as nausea or dizziness; talk to your doctor to see if the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
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