Hot Flashes Continue Years after Menopause: What To Do?

2011-10-21 12:00

If you are a woman hoping your hot flashes and night sweats will stop after menopause, results of a new study are not so reassuring. Researchers found that more than half of women were still experiencing hot flashes an average of a decade after their last period.

Hot flash study not a news flash for many women

Hot flashes (hot flushes) affect more than two-thirds of women in North America during perimenopause and nearly all women who experience premature or induced menopause. The severity of hot flashes can range from mildly annoying or uncomfortable to severe and debilitating, especially when accompanied by night sweats, which can significantly disrupt sleep.

Generally, the consensus has been that women have hot flashes and night sweats for between 2 to 5 years. However, this new study, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, reports on a much longer experience.

Investigators evaluated 10,418 postmenopausal women aged between 54 and 65, most of whom were white and living in an urban environment. Factors considered included body mass index, use of hormone therapy, lifestyle, medical history, and mood. All the women completed a questionnaire at the beginning of the study and then a follow-up survey 3.5 years later.

Most of the women (89.6%) reported having experienced hot flashes/night sweats at some time, with hot flashes being more common (86%) than night sweats (78%). More than half (54%) of the women said they were currently having hot flashes and night sweats, and this was true at a frequency of 33.5 per week across all ages.

According to one of the study’s co-authors, Professor Myra Hunter, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, “Our study looked at a large number of older postmenopausal women and we were surprised to find that menopausal symptoms persisted in over half of the women. They were still having hot flushes on average ten years after their last period.”

Factors that helped predict who had ever had these symptoms included previous hysterectomy, smoking history, and high alcohol intake. Predictors of current hot flash/night sweat prevalence included depressed mood, anxiety, hysterectomy, less education, and years since last period.

Hunter emphasized that “there is a need for effective non-hormonal treatments for women with problematic hot flushes and night sweats, and for women who have a recurrence of hot flushes after they stop taking hormone therapy.”

For women who suffer with hot flashes and/or night sweats and who want an effective non-hormone treatment, the results of studies are contradictory, so finding relief may be a matter of trial and error.

  • Two recent studies, including one published in Acupuncture in Medicine, reported that acupuncture was effective in relieving hot flashes and psychological symptoms of menopause
  • Soy products have gotten both a thumbs up and a thumbs down on relief of hot flashes. Soy contains isoflavones that have a weak estrogen-like effect that may be effective in some women. Soy foods rather than supplements are recommended.
  • The herb black cohosh has been reported to help women in the short term (6 months or less), although some research indicates the herb is not beneficial.
  • Flaxseed studies have yielded mixed results in hot flash relief. A study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago 2011included 188 women who consumed either a flaxseed bar or placebo bar for six weeks. Slightly more than 33% of women in both groups had a 50% reduction in hot flash scores. An earlier Mayo Clinic study, however, found that flaxseed reduced hot flash episodes by 50%.
  • Hypnosis has already been shown to reduce hot flashes by up to 68% among breast cancer survivors, and now it is being tested in postmenopausal women in an ongoing clinical trial (IDNCT01293695). Results will be forthcoming.

The wish that hot flashes and night sweats will disappear once menopause is over does not come true for most women, according to the results of this latest study--and the many women who suffer with them. Since hot flashes and night sweats continue for years after a woman’s last period, researchers will also continue to look for effective ways to prevent and treat them.

SOURCES:
Elkins GR et al. Hypnosis for hot flashes among postmenopausal women study. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine 2011 Oct 11; 11(1): 92
Hunter M et al. Prevalence, frequency and problem rating of hot flushes persist in older postmenopausal women: impact of age, body mass index, hysterectomy, hormone therapy use, lifestyle and mood in a cross-sectional cohort study of 10,418 British women aged 54-65. BJOG 2011; doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.2011.03166.x
Pruthi S et al. Pilot evaluation of flaxseed for the management of hot flashes. Journal of the Society of Integrative Oncology 2007 Summer; 5(3): 106-12
Sunay D et al. Acupuncture in Medicine 2011; 29:27-31

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Comments

I have been having hot flashes and very heavy sweating day and night. What can I take to at least stop the heaving sweating. Thank you.
Have you tried any of the options mentioned in the article? If the sweating is unbearable, you should talk to your healthcare provider. Research also suggests diet has a role in these symptoms. A Mediterranean diet (high fiber, low sugar and fat) can be helpful. Good luck.
I had a partial hysterectomy at about age 37. At aboutage 50 I felt changes and hot flashes. Not at night and not so much sweating andheavy heat burning inside my body and it wont come out as sweat. I am now 79 years and have been on Vivelle dot . It helps a litle but I can't go off it. I can't stand the heat. My home is kept at 74 or lessmy firends freeze when they come here and I am uncomfortable in most peoples homes. I wear tank tops and shorts. Is there help? I drink a lot of cold water and pretty balanced diet, lots of fruit and veggies. Should I try acupunture? Any suggestions? Thanks, Shelby
Shelby: Thanks for writing. I'm not a doctor so I can't recommend anything. What explanation has your doctor provided? I am also wondering if you have ever had your thyroid function checked? Thyroid dysfunction is not uncommon among postmenopausal women and is frequently overlooked. Good luck to you.