If you’re experiencing hot flashes, the hallmark symptom of menopause, you’re eager—OK, maybe desperate—to find ways to make them stop. Maybe you’re wondering if you should consider supplements, a change in diet, breathing exercises, hypnosis or even hormone therapy.
But there is an effective approach you may have overlooked entirely.
Understanding your own response to factors in your daily life that can bring hot flashes is the first step to minimizing them. It’s also a good way to figure out whether anything you’re doing is helping. All you have to do is live your life the way you already are—and jot down certain things that happen to you. Below are the exact steps to take—and we’ve even created a downloadable tracker to get you started.
HOT FLASH TRIGGERS ARE PERSONAL…SO GET TO KNOW YOURS
Hot flashes seemingly come out of the blue, often at inopportune times—in a meeting at work, at a family event, in the middle of the night (waking you up). In reality, though, many hot flashes occur in response to a trigger.
Drinking a hot beverage or sleeping in a warm room are common triggers, but there are many others, according to JoAnn Manson, MD, an endocrinologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine and women’s health at Harvard Medical School. Other commonly reported triggers include spicy food, smoking, hot weather, alcohol, caffeine, exercising vigorously, becoming dehydrated and even using a hair dryer or curling iron.
But here’s the rub: Not every woman is affected by any particular trigger…and your set of triggers could be unique to you.
One woman may have hot flashes after drinking wine—while another is fine with wine but coffee sets her off. A nice warm bath? That’s an invitation to an internal furnace for one woman, while for another it’s a relaxing, soothing—even cooling—ritual.
Although there is little rigorous research on the role of “triggers,” many are common sense and women are able to identify them quickly, explains Dr. Manson. If you can identify the foods, actions and scenarios that set off hot flashes for you, you can learn to avoid them. Presto—fewer flashes.
THE TRACKING EDGE
The best way to identify your triggers? Keep a hot flash diary. In addition to helping you notice physical triggers such as eating hot soup or sitting in an overheated room—which make immediate sense when you think about it—tracking can help uncover the less obvious triggers that you might not have imagined are setting you off, including other foods, activities and the powerful effect of emotional stress. Women can feel a hot flash coming on when they hear upsetting news or sometimes when they are preparing to speak in front of a group of people. Indeed, anything that stresses you, even the most mundane hassles, could be a trigger. And, once again, women don’t all react to different stresses the same way—so learning how to deal with your stress triggers can be a “cool” thing.
Tracking your hot flashes is also a great way to monitor the effects of any actions that you take to minimize symptoms—to see if what you’re trying is working. Maybe you’ll try nutritional approaches such as soy and flax seeds or mind-body methods such as hypnosis, paced breathing or cognitive behavioral therapy. By tracking your flashes before you start and for a few weeks afterward, you’ll know whether any new approach is helping.
Got an appointment with your health-care provider? Bring in your diary to inspire constructive discussion about what may help you, and continue using it if you start on a new medical treatment such as an antidepressant or hormone therapy.
How long should you track? It depends on how frequent your hot flashes are. If you get one or more every day, tracking for just a week or so should give you a good idea. If flashes come only a few times a week or even less, you may need to track for a month.
Women should feel empowered to play a role in managing their menopause symptoms, emphasizes Dr. Manson. She does offer a reality check, however. While many flashes occur because of triggers, others are simply physiological responses to fluctuating estrogen levels. So don’t expect zero flashes. But if you’re bothered by hot flashes, finding a safe and easy way to have fewer is always a good idea.
Ready to start? Download the Bottom Line Hot Flash Tracker, print it out and follow its instructions. Let us know how it works for you—leave a comment below!