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New Study Says Hot Flashes Can Last Up to 14 Years

April 21, 2015

About 75 percent of women approaching menopause experience hot flashes, according to the North American Menopause Society.

Characterized by night sweats and intense sensations of heat throughout the day, hot flashes can make it difficult for many women to sleep, focus on work and continue their normal, day-to-day activities.

Although every woman will have a different experience with this common symptom of menopause, past research indicated that most women will have hot flashes anywhere from six months to five years. However, a new study is turning that conventional wisdom on its head. The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a 17-year multiracial/multiethnic observational study involving nearly 1,500 women, showed that 50 percent of participants suffered from hot flashes for more than seven years, with some women experiencing it for 14 years.

Though the thought of 14 years of hot flashes may seem frightening, these new findings could allow us to offer more targeted and tailored therapy to women undergoing menopause. If you are currently approaching menopause or already experiencing it, here are some helpful tips about how you can manage its symptoms.

Understanding Hot Flashes

We still haven’t figured out what primarily causes hot flashes, but decreases in estrogen and changes in the body’s hypothalamus (the part of the brain that controls body temperature) have been linked to hot flashes.

Hot flashes can be very uncomfortable, and they can affect your quality of life. You may feel more heat on your upper body and face, experience redness in your skin and sweat more frequently than you used to, especially at night. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may experience chills as hot flashes begin to wear off.

The SWAN Study suggests that hot flashes may last longer in women who begin to experience them while they are still menstruating. These women and those in early perimenopause—the time period when a woman transitions to menopause—experienced hot flashes for a median of 11.8 years. Researchers think this could be because women in this category may be more sensitive to hormonal changes that occur with age.

Prevention & Treatment Options

Lifestyle changes, hormone therapies, medication and alternative therapies may help to control hot flashes.

Stress and caffeine have been linked hot flashes. In the SWAN study, women who acknowledged a higher level of stress in their lives tended to have lengthier symptoms. A 2014 Mayo Clinic study indicated that women who consumed more caffeine had worse hot flashes and night sweats. If your hot flashes are particularly bothersome, reduce your caffeine consumption and do activities that lower your stress, such as exercising, reading a book or taking part in your favorite hobby.

Medication and alternative therapies also may be effective for some women. Vitamin B complex, Vitamin E and ibuprofen can help to control symptoms, as can certain prescription medications. Acupuncture also may be effective. One study showed that the therapy reduced the severity and frequency of hot flashes for up to three months.

Depending on the intensity of your symptoms, you might consider hormone replacement therapy for a few years, which can prevent hot flashes and ease other menopause symptoms. However, this treatment has certain risk factors such as an increased risk for blood clots, so talk to your doctor about what might work best for you.

Hot flashes can be uncomfortable and disruptive, but there are several treatments that can reduce their frequency and intensity. While biology will dictate how long you’ll experience these symptoms, these new findings will help us tailor our treatment approach for women as they progress through menopause and hopefully help them better cope with this change.