There’s a lot of misinformation out there, in general, about menopause. It used to be a little-discussed topic, leaving those who were going through it to figure it out on their own — in silence, without support, and often feeling embarrassed or stressed out.
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But as Bob Dylan once sang, “The times, they are a-changin,” and thankfully, menopause is no longer the taboo topic it once was. After all, it’s a natural part of the aging process. What’s there to be embarrassed about?!
As menopause approaches, it’s important to know what’s happening to your body and what to expect. Ob/Gyn and certified menopause practitioner Claudia Mason, MD, helps debunk some of the myths about one of the most pervasive symptoms of menopause — hot flashes.
False. Sorry, but these aren’t the kind of sweat sessions that’ll burn off breakfast! “Hot flashes do not burn calories,” Dr. Mason confirms. For that, you’ll need to hit the gym or otherwise get moving.
False. You might be surprised to learn that you don’t have to be in menopause — or even all that close to it — to start having hot flashes. Though the typical age of menopause is about 51, many people have symptoms of perimenopause (the lead-up to menopause) for years before their final menstrual period.
False. Hot flashes make you feel hot, but they’re different from fevers, which indicate a higher-than-normal raise in your core body temperature.
When you’re going through perimenopause, your body is extremely sensitive to even small changes in temperature. When it senses a change, it jumpstarts the process of trying to cool you down — which is, ironically, the very thing that makes you feel so hot. Blood rushes to your chest and face, and you start sweating as your body attempts to cool off.
“Hot flashes raise the surface temperature of your skin because your body is getting rid of that internal heat,” Dr. Mason explains. “But hot flashes don’t give you a fever because they don’t raise your core body temperature.”
Mostly false. Whoa, slow down! Lots of supplements and botanicals — including magnesium and black cohosh — have been studied for their possible role in making hot flashes more manageable. But so far, there’s no definitive evidence that any of them live up to their claims. And some can do more harm than good.
“Don’t just go buy supplements with labels that make a bunch of claims,” Dr. Mason warns. “Supplements aren’t regulated, so you don’t really know what’s in them. And you want to be really careful about what you’re putting in your body.”
Be wary of any product that claims to put an end to your menopause symptoms, including your hot flashes, and talk to your healthcare provider instead.
True, but it’s uncommon. Dizziness is a possible symptom of hot flashes, but it’s not a standard one.
“During a hot flash, the blood vessels in your chest and face dilate to try to release some of that heat,” Dr. Mason explains. “If you get enough blood going to the face, you might experience low blood pressure, which could cause some temporary dizziness.”
If you do experience it, it’s likely to be short-lived, going away when your hot flash subsides. But if your hot flashes frequently bring on dizziness or nausea, talk to your healthcare provider. These aren’t standard symptoms of menopausal hot flashes, so it’s important to make sure there aren’t any other health issues at play.
False. Some people claim that indulging in a little bit of hanky-panky can help rid you of your hot flashes, but this one isn’t true.
“To my knowledge, sex cannot relieve the symptoms of hot flashes,” Dr. Mason says. “There’s no research confirming that to be the case.”
The good news is that hot flashes typically only last about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, so they pass on their own pretty quickly (and without giving you much time to get sex started, anyway).
True. Studies show that women who quit smoking were less likely to have severe hot flashes than those who continue to smoke throughout menopause. “In general, people who smoke are thought to experience worse symptoms of menopause than nonsmokers go through,” Dr. Mason notes.
This makes sense, given that smoking is known to have a negative effect on the reproductive system. Smoking can decrease hormone production and have a negative effect on the ovaries, which is why people who are trying to get pregnant are strongly encouraged to quit smoking.
False! When it comes to hot flashes, you definitely don’t have to grin and bear it. Here are some things you can do to manage them:
If hot flashes are impacting your quality of life, it’s time to bring in the professionals, Dr. Mason says. “See your healthcare provider — specifically an Ob/Gyn, if you have one — to discuss hormonal and non-hormonal treatments that can lessen your hot flashes and get you feeling back on track.”
To learn more about this topic, listen to the Health Essentials Podcast episode, “What to Expect in Menopause.” New episodes of the Health Essentials Podcast publish every Wednesday.