Menopause is a natural biological process that all women go through – but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Menopause and perimenopause can both cause unpleasant side effects like anxiety, mood swings, and brain fog. Though two of the most common symptoms are hot flushes and night sweats. These can begin long before your periods stop and carry on for years after.

Research shows that more than 80% of women experience hot flushes (also called ‘flashes’) during menopause and perimenopause – and while they can be manageable, they can also affect your quality of life.

Many women find hot flushes to be uncomfortable and embarrassing. When they occur at night, they can also disturb sleep, which can affect your mood and focus during the day.

If you’re going through menopause or perimenopause, it can be helpful to know more about hot flushes – from what causes them to how long they last.

It’s also important to remember that every woman is different, and symptoms and side effects can vary greatly from person to person. You might be lucky enough that your hot flushes are mild, or they may be so intense that they have a detrimental effect on your life.

So, to help you navigate the challenging path that menopause leads you down, here’s what you need to know about hot flushes – from triggers to treatments, and how to best manage your symptoms.

Hot flushes – the basics

Hot flushes – the basics

While scientists still don’t know exactly what causes hot flushes, they do know that they result from hormonal changes in the body.

The length, frequency, and intensity of hot flushes can be variable; some may pass after a few seconds, while others can go on for more than 10 minutes. You may experience only a couple of hot flushes each week, or they may occur every hour.

How they feel can vary too, and they can be so intense that they wake you from your sleep or stop you from carrying on with your daily activities.

However intense hot flushes are for you, most women experience some, or all, of the following symptoms…

  • A sudden feeling of heat spreading through your chest, neck and face
  • Your face and chest looking flushed, red, and blotchy
  • Your heart beating faster than normal
  • Sweating, mostly in the upper body
  • Tingling in your fingers
  • Feelings of anxiety or lack of focus

Symptoms may come on suddenly, or they may be linked to triggers, like drinking alcohol or eating spicy foods (we’ll look more closely at this below).

Whatever flushes feel like for you, it’s important not to minimise your discomfort. Most women who have hot flushes experience them daily – and on average, symptoms last for over seven years – so this isn’t something that we should downplay.

11 ways to manage hot flushes

While there’s no guarantee of preventing hot flushes completely, there are ways you can manage your symptoms and lessen the frequency of your flushes.

So, let’s take a look at the best ways to manage.

1. Be mindful of your clothing choices

Be mindful of your clothing choices

If you’re looking for an excuse to update your wardrobe, this could be it. Synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester are best avoided during menopause – instead, it can be helpful to wear lighter clothing that’s made from natural fabrics, like cotton, linen, silk, or bamboo, as these are all breathable.

In colder months, it’s generally better to wear several light layers rather than one big woolly jumper, to make it easier to take clothes off when you feel a flush coming on. Try to avoid tight-fitting clothes whenever you can, too, as looser styles are more breathable and less restrictive, as well as being comfier.

If you worry about having a hot flush, you might want to avoid wearing colours that show sweat – greys, blues, and bright colours are the worst for this. Studies show that the more worried you are about having a hot flush, the more likely you are to have one, so being prepared may make you feel more at ease.

2. Carry a fan and cooling spray

Carry a fan and cooling spray

It’s also a good idea to invest in two handbag or backpack essentials: a portable fan and a cooling spray. Battery-powered mini-fans can feel like lifesavers when you get a hot flush, but basic hand-held fans can be a real help too.

Cooling spray is also a great idea – though you should try to keep it in the fridge, and only pop it in your bag when you go out. There are special menopause-formulated cooling sprays you can buy, but most face mists will do the job. Simply giving yourself a spritz of cold water during a hot flush can make a big difference.

3. Make changes at night

Make changes at night

If you’re prone to night sweats, try switching to cotton or linen pyjamas and bedding – or, if you’re feeling fancy, you could go all out and get silk sheets and sleepwear! These light, breathable fabrics can make night sweats more manageable.

It can also help to get into the habit of turning the heating down or opening a window whenever you go to bed – even if it initially feels chilly. You might also want to leave a towel and spare pyjamas nearby, so if you do wake up in a sweat, you won’t have to get up to change.

4. Cut down on alcohol

Cut down on alcohol

After an intense or embarrassing hot flush, the allure of a chilled glass of wine or an icy cocktail can seem especially strong. But alcohol – especially red wine – is actually linked to hot flushes, so it’s best to avoid it when you can. Alcohol is also strongly linked to disturbed sleep, so if you experience night sweats, it’s even better to try to stay away from drinking.

However, you don’t have to abstain entirely if you don’t want to – just be mindful of when and what you’re drinking. Some research suggests that women who drink alcohol every day are much more likely to experience hot flushes and night sweats – yet other studies show that women who drink alcohol around once a month are less likely to have hot flushes than women who abstained entirely.

5. Limit caffeine

Limit caffeine

Unfortunately for coffee lovers, caffeine is also thought to be a trigger for hot flushes – as are hot drinks in general.

Again, you don’t have to abstain entirely, but it’s a good idea to try and cut down as much as you can. If you’re in the habit of having tea and coffee throughout the day, try switching to decaf to see if that helps. If nothing else, it may help you sleep better!

Alternatively, if you want to try something different in place of your usual caffeine fix, you could consider drinking liquorice tea, which research suggests can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flushes.

6. Swap spice for milder flavours

Swap spice for milder flavours

It probably won’t surprise you to know that spicy food can bring about hot flushes – and for many women, food like curries and chillies can be a real trigger.

If you notice that eating spicy food leads to hot flushes for you, it’s worth reducing your spice level, and going for a milder option where possible.

7. Get plenty of exercise

Get plenty of exercise

The idea of getting hot and sweaty while exercising might sound counterintuitive when it comes to reducing hot flushes, but exercise can actually reduce your chances of having both hot flushes and night sweats. Studies by the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences found that women who exercised regularly had less frequent and less intense hot flushes.

You don’t have to start running marathons or lifting heavy weights – brisk walking, dancing, swimming or doing your favourite fitness video can help. Exercising regularly can reduce the chances of developing heart disease and osteoporosis, which become bigger risk factors after menopause.

Plus, being overweight can make you more prone to hot flushes, so getting plenty of exercise can help with weight management – and, because menopause can have a detrimental effect on your mood, those endorphins can give you a powerful boost too.

8. Take cooler showers

Take cooler showers

Taking a long, hot shower can feel like one of life’s pleasures – particularly during the cold winter months! But unsurprisingly, taking a very hot shower can raise your body temperature, which can increase the chances of hot flushes occurring.

While you don’t have to have freezing cold showers, aiming for a water temperature that’s lukewarm, rather than scorching hot, can help to keep hot flushes at bay.

9. Explore ways to release stress

Explore ways to release stress

Feeling stressed or anxious can be another trigger for hot flushes, so try to set some time aside each day to practise stress-management techniques, whether that’s meditating; doing breathing exercises or yoga; or simply going for a walk.

While there’s no conclusive evidence yet that mind-body exercises can reduce hot flushes, they may provide other benefits – including helping you feel more balanced overall and improving sleep disturbances.

Being able to manage your stress levels and reduce your anxiety may minimise the intensity of hot flushes and give you a greater sense of control.

To find out more about managing your stress levels, head over to the healthy mind section of our website.

10. Keep a trigger diary

Keep a trigger diary

While hot flushes can be unpredictable, many women find they’re worse after eating spicy food, drinking alcohol or caffeine, or when they’re feeling stressed.

In order to identify your triggers, you could try keeping a diary of when and where your hot flushes occur.

Keep the diary for a few weeks or a month, and then look back and see if you can identify any triggers. If you see that you regularly have hot flushes after your post-lunch coffee, for example, try cutting it out – or if you see that your flushes increase in intensity when you’re feeling stressed, see if incorporating stress-management techniques into your day makes a difference.

11. Consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

If you’ve tried all of the above but still feel that your hot flushes aren’t manageable, you might want to consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is a treatment that replaces the oestrogen that your body no longer produces due to the menopause. There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding HRT for a long time, but in part, this is due to misreporting.

While there’s evidence to suggest that some forms of HRT can carry an increased risk of developing breast, ovarian, and womb cancers, this depends on what type of HRT you take (there are tablets, gels, skin patches, implants), how long you take it for, your age when you start taking it, and whether you have any health conditions.

HRT is the most effective way of managing hot flushes – as well as other menopause symptoms in general – and while it’s important to be aware of the risks, it’s also important to know that these risks are tiny for most women. To get a clearer idea about your individual risk factors, you can speak to your GP. And to read more about HRT, you might want to have a read of our article on the subject.

If you don’t want to take HRT, there are other prescribed medications you might want to consider taking. According to the NHS, medications that can help with hot flushes and night sweats include Clonidine, a blood pressure medicine; and Gabapentin, an epilepsy medicine. If you want to know whether a prescribed medication could work for you, you should make an appointment with your GP.

Final thoughts...

Menopause is a natural part of life, but that doesn’t mean the challenges that often come with it should be sidelined or minimised. Physical symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats can be incredibly unpleasant, and if you’re finding them difficult to manage, it’s important to know that you don’t need to struggle by yourself.

Identifying your triggers is one of the best things you can do when it comes to managing hot flushes – but if they still don’t get better after making certain lifestyle changes, there are other options available. To find out more about what your options are, it’s important to make an appointment with your GP to have a chat about your experiences.

While the menopause can be a challenging time, it shouldn’t have to get in the way of you enjoying life – and by making lifestyle changes and ensuring you have the right support, it can become a more liberating, exciting chapter in your life.