The plague of the menopausal hot flash: It binds us 50-plus women together in frantic sweater-shedding, face-fanning misery, and yet, we cling desperately to the knowledge that someday, someday, we will be done with them.
But the results this week of a new study put that day potentially farther into the future, finding that hot flashes can last as long as 14 years. Unfasten a couple of buttons and read on.
The study of 3,302 women, published online in JAMA Internal Medicine, concluded that the median length of time a woman experiences frequent hot flashes is 7.4 years. Women who were premenopausal or perimenopausal when the hot flashes began experienced them for a median of 9.4 years.
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The duration varied greatly, Dr. Nancy Avis, a professor of social sciences and health policy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the lead author of the study, told PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff.
“We found that about 20 percent only experienced hot flashes and night sweats for maybe two years, while another percentage … experienced them for 14 years,” she said.
“For those who do experience them a long period of time, we need to find some safe and effective ways to relieve these symptoms,” Avis said. “As of now, we really don’t have good methods on the long term.”
Treatments such as acupuncture, hypnosis, mindfulness and stress reduction can be safe, effective and “worth a try,” Avis said. Other women may want to take prescription medications, “but they should talk to a health care provider about those,” Avis said.
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For African American women, the median duration of hot flashes was even longer — 10.1 years. Overall, hot flashes affect about 80 percent of women, experts say.
There is no good way to predict when hot flashes will begin and end, according to the North American Menopause Society. For some unlucky women, they may recur years after they had stopped.
The research published this week, known as the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), followed subjects in seven U.S. locations from 1996 to 2013. The study defined “frequent” hot flashes or night sweats as occurring six or more days in the previous two weeks.
Some treatments that may help for hot flashes and night sweats, according to the National Institute on Aging and the Office on Women’s Health:
- Sleep in a cool space
- Wear clothes or pajamas that let your skin “breathe”
- Drink cold water when you feel a hot flash beginning
- Lose weight and quit smoking (both may help)
- Avoid getting overheated
- Practice relaxation breathing
- Avoid consuming certain things, such as spicy foods or caffeine, if they trigger hot flashes
- Talk to your doctor about drugs that might help. Especially bothersome hot flashes can be relieved by hormone therapy, but its complications for post-menopausal women may include a higher risk of blood clots, stroke and breast cancer. Some women can safely take antidepressants or anti-seizure medication for hot flashes.
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