Chances are that if you’ve Googled hot flash, or chatted to friends about menopause, you’ve found a lot of confusing, contradictory, and downright strange information. You might even have found some very convincing misinformation⸺it can be really hard to tell!
Today, we’re going to set the record straight, break down some of the most common hot flash myths and look at some (true) things you might not know about menopause.
Myth #1: Hot flashes don't last that long, so just push through it!
OK, let’s break this down.
Firstly, no matter how long or how frequently you’ve had hot flashes, you don’t have to put up with them. There are many options available to you to help manage hot flashes.
Secondly, hot flashes can happen for up to 20 years! Now, don’t be panicked by that statistic⸺the average length that women will experience hot flashes is about two years. But it’s not uncommon for hot flashes to make an appearance for 10 years, or even more!
That's far too long to simply 'muscle-through' without relief.
Myth #2: It's all in your head!
Actually, this hot flash myth is technically correct, it’s just not what you think!
In non-medical terms, a hot flash in menopause is triggered when your internal thermostat is out of alignment.
In more medical terms: a hot flash happens when your hypothalamus, the area of your brain that monitors and regulates your body temperature, starts believing you are overheating⸺when you’re not!
It then sends out messages to the rest of your body to start flushing, sweating and palpitating in order to cool down your (not hot) body.
The reason this happens during menopause has to do with the reduced amount of estrogen your body produces. This has an effect on how your hypothalamus decides what is a normal temperature and what is not.
The good news is that eventually your hypothalamus adjusts to your new hormone levels and, over time (or with management), your hot flashes become less frequent and severe.
Which brings us to our next myth.
Myth #3: Hot flashes only happen to older women
It may or may not surprise you to know that menopausal hot flashes can start in your 30s. Most often they begin for women in their 40s when they enter the perimenopause stage, but they can happen earlier.
While most women complete menopause in their early 50s, hot flashes can continue into your 70s and beyond.
Hot flashes also happen to younger women who are prescribed hormone therapy drugs as part of their treatment for breast cancer. These treatments reduce the amount of estrogen in their body, mimicking menopause.
Myth #4: Only women get hot flashes
Anyone can experience a hot flash. This includes men and (quite rarely) children.
While menopause is perhaps the best-known reason for hot flashes, other causes can include cancer treatments, medications, and underlying health conditions.
A little known fact is that 80% of men with a history of prostate cancer experience hot flashes! This is triggered by androgen deprivation therapy that reduces the amount of the male hormone progesterone.
If you are concerned that your hot flashes are not related to menopause (or even if you are), it’s important to talk to your doctor as they may be a sign of an underlying health condition.
Myth #5: Just eat more soy!
Feel like eating a little extra tofu and drinking soy milk? No problem, but don’t expect it to fix your hot flashes.
Soy products contain phytoestrogens which are thought to mimic the human hormone estrogen.
One school of thought is that by consuming soy products, you are ‘replenishing’ your estrogen levels and will therefore experience fewer hot flashes.
Overall, more research needs to be done into the role of phytoestrogens, and soy, in relieving menopause symptoms but one one review found the link between soy and hot flash reduction is ‘weak’ at best, and increasing your consumption of soy may put you at higher risk of some cancers.
It’s best to think of soy as coffee or red wine⸺small amounts may give you some benefits, but if you overindulge, it may not be good for your overall well-being.
Myth #6: Menopause is horrid
While many aspects of menopause aren't ideal (hot flashes, facial hair, and vaginal dryness, for instance), there are many great things about menopause too! Menopause for many women is a liberating time where they can say goodbye to periods and painful premenstrual symptoms.
It's also a time where women can reconnect with their bodies and take some time to make choices to feel comfortable and confident in this new stage of life!
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Myth #7: Menopause means your sex life is over
Well the answer to this is⸺only if you want it to be. Just because you're going through menopause doesn't mean your sex life has to take a back-seat. In fact, without the worry of unplanned pregnancy, many women feel liberated by farewelling their monthly menses.
While around 50% of women report reduced sexual desire and around 30% report poor vaginal lubrication (symptoms that can be treated), recent research suggests that sexual satisfaction in women increases with age.
In one study, the majority of participants (the median age of which was 67 years) reported frequent arousal and orgasm.
If you're noticing problems with your sexual health, talk to your partner about your feelings and plan ways to make sex more comfortable and enjoyable. There are also over-the-counter lubricants available that specifically address vaginal dryness.
Myth #8: You don't need to use contraception anymore!
On the subject of sex—don't throw caution to the wind just yet! It's actually recommended that women wait for one year without a period if they are over 50, or for 2 years without a period if they are under 50, to stop using contraception to prevent pregnancy.
Also, it's a good thing to remember that even without pregnancy, you may want to still consider contraception options to prevent sexually transmissible infections (STIs) with new sexual partners.
Myth #9: Cool a hot flash with fans/spray bottles
Let's take a little time with this myth. Remember Myth #1 where we told you hot flashes are all in your brain? Cooling yourself down while you have a hot flash won’t stop the hot flash from happening but may reinforce your brain’s belief that you are overheating.
By using cooling tools, like blowing cool air or spraying cool water onto your face, you are signalling to your body that there is an external heat source and you need relief.
Unfortunately, once a hot flash begins, nothing can stop it from occurring—not even a fan or ice-pack! Cooling tools may even set up a cycle of use: the more you use cooling tools, the more hot flashes you may have, leading to more use of things like fans and sprays. It’s best to try and keep the temperature stable, and avoid any heat spikes and drops through airconditioning or fans.
Myth #10: HRT is the only way to manage hot flashes
Well, this one is definitely not true - but like all myths, it started from a place of truth. Once upon a time, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was the only clinically proven way to effectively reduce hot flashes.
Nowadays, we know that hypnotherapy is also an effective hot flash management tool. Clinical studies show that hot flash hypnotherapy can reduce hot flashes by up to 80%, without the use of drugs!
There are other natural remedies out there, but it’s worth looking carefully into their claims, as most haven’t been shown to be as effective as HRT or hypnotherapy, and they may have adverse side effects.
Find hot flash information you can trust
Like we said at the beginning, there is a lot of hot flashes and menopause misinformation on the internet. When you’re looking for information you can trust, use reputable sites that base their claims on clinical trials and specialists in their field. Some helpful sites include:
The Wrap Up
There is a lot of information out there about hot flashes, menopause and women’s health in general. Don’t forget—just because someone says it, or it’s written on a website, doesn’t mean it’s true. Be sure to do your own research on websites you can trust and talk to your doctor. They’ll be more than happy to guide you through the ups and downs of this stage of life.