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Women going through menopause often experience hot flashes, which are the sudden onset of the sensation of heat throughout the body that can cause discomfort, sweating, and flushing for several minutes. They are thought to be a result of decreasing hormone levels in the body. Hot flashes are not dangerous or harmful, but they may cause physical or mental discomfort, and if they occur at night they can disrupt sleep. While it is not considered necessary to do so if they are well tolerated, many women choose to seek out treatment for hot flashes because of the unpleasant sensations they cause.
For many years, the standard treatment for hot flashes was hormone replacement therapy. Doctors would typically prescribe estrogen, progesterone, or combinations of both, which are available in pill or patch form. Long-term studies have revealed, however, that hormone therapy carries the risk of some very serious side effects, particularly cancer, heart attack, and stroke. Hormone replacement therapy is still used, but due to the risks, doctors and patients are more likely to review the individual person's medical history and how hormone replacement may affect her, and to try to minimize the time hormones are used.
Some other medications have been shown to be effective when used as a treatment for hot flashes. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are a type of anti-depressant that can be taken at low doses to reduce them. The anti-seizure medication Gabapentin may also offer some relief. Clonidine, typically used to treat high blood pressure, has been helpful in alleviating hot flashes for some women. Alternative forms of progesterone have also been used with some success.
There are certain alternatives to prescription medications that may be useful for treatment for hot flashes, though there is limited scientific data to confirm it. Phytoestrogens, which are plant-derived estrogens, such as the isoflavones found in soy, lentils, and red clover are thought to help decrease their effects. The herbal supplement black cohosh is popularly used for the symptoms of menopause. Other supplements that have been promoted as possible treatments include evening primrose oil, licorice, and vitamin E.
Lifestyle changes and behavior modification can also make a difference in minimizing hot flashes. Keeping cool by wearing light clothing and controlling the environmental temperature with fans or air conditioning can help. Exercise, deep breathing, and other stress reduction techniques may make a difference. Alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods, which can all trigger hot flashes, should probably be avoided.
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