Flash Points!

Why suffer unpredictable hot flashes when there are options for relief?

After Janice turned 55, on some days, waves of heat would rise through her body. The sudden, uncomfortable warmth would prompt beads of sweat to trickle down her face. When she glanced in the mirror, she looked as if she’d just emerged from a dip in the swimming pool. What’s more, nasty wetness would pool in the middle of her back, soaking her blouses. She dared not wear the elegant silk tops she so loved. With a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, Janice realized she was suffering from hot flashes, a common sign of menopause.

Like 75 percent of U.S. women going through perimenopause, Janice experienced temporary but recurring bouts of hot flashes. For her, and many women like her, hot flashes are annoying, embarrassing and sometimes debilitating events. Janice’s self-confidence plummeted. She never knew when hot flashes would strike and dreaded attending meetings or events where she’d have to interact with others.

According to recent findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), for some women, hot flashes can last more than seven years. What’s more, the findings also showed that these episodes may last longer for African-American women.

“There’s so much variation, and we know that certain ethnic groups suffer more than others,” says Rebecca Brightman, MD, a certified menopause practitioner at the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) and assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Brightman adds that she’s seen some women who are incredibly troubled by the flushes of heat, while others are absolutely fine. “It’s really variable,” she says.

But for the women who do suffer from hot flashes, there are many effective treatments they can try. Many doctors suggest hormone replacement therapy in the form of pills, patches, creams and vaginal rings that typically contain estrogen alone, or estrogen combined with progesterone. “These regimens really need to be tailored to an individual woman’s needs and desires when presented with all the options,” Brightman says.