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  • Writer's pictureKathy Coudle-King

Feeling hot, hot, hot flash!

It may be 16 below outside, but baby, there’s a tropical heatwave happening in my bedroom!

My heart begins to race as my skin begins to sizzle, perspiration trickles down my neck, pools between my breasts. I passionately throw the duvet to the floor, rip my nightgown over my head – not in lust, but in -- a massive hot flash!

Is that laughter I hear? Well, I suppose it was my set up, because hot flashes are not funny. Not when they’re happening night after night, waking me up at 1:30 and 3:30 a.m. It’s like going to sleep in a nice dry dessert and waking up in the middle of the ocean in a rainstorm. Water is sloshing everywhere, and there aren’t enough buckets to bail this sucker out.

I get up, wring out my nightgown, and crack the window. My husband wakes and mutters, “What in the world are you doing?!” I say, “Shut up, you bastard!”

The cold air doesn’t seep in fast enough, so I head for my front door – think better of flashing while I’m flashing -- I grab my robe. After donning said robe, I yank open the door.

It’s pitch black outside: No moon, no cars, just me with steam rising off my body. My sweaty head begins to cool, and now I’m shivering. Realizing my hair is beginning to freeze, I re-enter my home, return to my bed, my partner is snoring and has missed the entire event.

Why am I sharing this oh, so personal info? Because 51% of the population is female, but people don’t talk about menopause except as a joke. The reality of it gets brushed aside. The facts get ignored. Women suffer in silence.

“Why are you telling the world you don’t get your period anymore? It just confirms your age, dear.”

Yes, I’m 55. I bled for 42 years. I stopped. Now, let’s have a party! (And don't call me "dear.")

Wait, what’s this you say? I might suffer from hot flashes for YEARS?

Years. Let that sink in, all you non-menopausal people. (All you men.) Years of feeling like you’re on the bottom deck of the Titanic.

So, in sharing my personal tribulations, I thought I might also share some information that could possibly help someone feel less alone, or perhaps prepare you for the day when “Aunt Flo” no longer pays her monthly visit and stays away for good.

Causes - Why we flash:

“Hot flashes are most commonly caused by changing hormone levels before, during, and after menopause. It's not clear exactly how hormonal changes cause hot flashes. But most research suggests that hot flashes occur when decreased estrogen levels cause your body's thermostat (hypothalamus) to become more sensitive to slight changes in body temperature. When the hypothalamus thinks your body is too warm, it starts a chain of events — a hot flash — to cool you down.”

Well, isn’t that clever?

Okay, so a couple of things, here: “It’s not clear exactly”? And “most research suggests”? Hello! Women have been experiencing this for EONS and science still doesn’t know exactly what causes hot flashes? What? Middle-aged women with sleep disruption isn’t a PRIORITY for yah yet? Did you know that you can now buy over the counter “Viagra”? Yeah, don’t even need a prescription. But women all across the WORLD are waking up in a pool of sweat, night after night – sometimes for TEN YEARS -- and we are still at the “suggest” stage of figuring it out? Give me a shot of vodka and call me pissy.

So, some of my “friends” say they never had hot flashes. And I'm going to call them tomorrow at 1:30 in the morning and tell them all about it!

Risk Factors:

“Smoking. Women who smoke are more likely to get hot flashes.”

Does not apply to this broad. What else you got, Mayo?

“Race. More black women report having hot flashes during menopause than do women of other races."

White privilege strikes again. Except for me. What else, Mayo?

“Obesity. A high body mass index (BMI) is associated with a higher frequency of hot flashes.”.

Here we go again. Blame it on the chub. I’m trying to lose weight, okay, but getting up in the middle of the night makes me hungry.


According to Mayo, I can go on hormone treatment (although there are risks -- of course there are): “Most women who have had a hysterectomy can take estrogen alone. But if you still have a uterus, you should take progesterone with estrogen to protect against cancer of the lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer).”

Fabulous, what else can we do? Well, we can take anti-depressants: Venlafaxine (Effexor XR), Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), Citalopram (Celexa), and Escitalopram (Lexapro).

Or we can take anti-seizure drugs:

Gabapentin (Neurontin, Gralise, others). Side effects can include drowsiness, dizziness, water retention in the limbs (edema) and fatigue.

Pregabalin (Lyrica). Side effects can include dizziness, drowsiness, difficulty concentrating and weight gain.

Oxybutynin (Ditropan XL, Oxytrol). Side effects can include dry mouth, dry eyes, constipation, nausea and dizziness.

Clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay, others). Side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth and constipation.

So, let’s see: I MIGHT be able to get rid of the hot flashes, but then I might also have to deal with drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and constipation. Fantastic. On the plus side, once my bladder becomes over-active the Oxybutynin can help. See? There’s always a bright side.

Oh, wait, I can also get a nerve block! Yay!: “A procedure known as stellate ganglian block has shown promise for treating moderate to severe hot flashes, but – “Guess what? “More research is needed.”

You know what? That’s okay. I’ll wait since the procedure “involves injecting an anesthetic into a nerve cluster in the neck. (!!!) The treatment has been used for pain management. Side effects include pain.” Yah think?

Oo, here are some helpful “home remedies”:

· “Keep cool. Seriously? This is the advice from one of the leading medical health centers in the world?

· “Open windows or use a fan or air conditioner. Lower the room temperature, if you can. If you feel a hot flash coming on, sip a cold drink.” I sure hope they didn’t spend a lot of money on this research.

· “Watch what you eat and drink. Hot and spicy foods, caffeinated beverages and alcohol can trigger hot flashes. Learn to recognize your triggers and avoid them.”

You know what else is a trigger? Stupid advice! Lack of research on women’s health care!

· “Relax. Some women find relief from mild hot flashes through meditation; slow, deep breathing; or other stress-reducing techniques.”

Meditate on this, Mayo

· “Don't smoke" They seem to be missing the point: I am boiling!

· “Lose weight. This again! Stop telling me to lose weight. It makes me want to eat a cupcake. Or six.

“There is also alternative medicine.”

There sure as hell better be when you’re suggesting nerve blockers! Sheesh.

According to Mayo, “There's a shortage of well-designed studies on complementary health practices for hot flashes, but research is progressing.” Yes, and right after they figure out how men can lick their own balls, they will get right on this. (I’m sorry. That was NOT nice. Forgive me. I am low on estrogen.)

Okay, so what about those “mind/body approaches”?

“A [slowly] growing body of evidence suggests that certain techniques can help ease hot flashes, including:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT doesn't typically reduce the frequency of hot flashes but may reduce how much they bother you. [emphasis added]

· Hypnosis. Research indicates that hypnosis might help reduce both the frequency and severity of hot flashes.

· Acupuncture. Some studies indicate that acupuncture might reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes, but results are conflicting.

Wait! There are dietary supplements!! Whoopee!

· “Plant estrogens. Asian women, who consume soy regularly, are less likely to report hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms than are women in other parts of the world. One reason might be related to the estrogen-like compounds in soy.”

(Fry up the tofu! -- Oops, not so fast.)

“However, studies have generally found little or no benefit with plant estrogens, although research is ongoing [I just bet it is] to determine whether specific components of soy, such as genistein, help hot flashes.”

· Black cohosh. [I think I smoked this in college.] Studies of black cohosh's effectiveness have had mixed results, and the supplement might be harmful to the liver in rare circumstances. (That’s not good. If I’m going to hurt my liver, I can think of other ways to do it. “Hell, Vodka? It’s Mommy.”)

· Ginseng. While ginseng may help with mood symptoms and insomnia, it doesn't appear to reduce hot flashes. [Then why the hell is it listed here? We are talking HOT FLASHES, Mayo! Hot flashes! My mood and my sleep would be just fine without the – HOT FLASHES!]

· Dong quai. Study results indicate that dong quai isn't effective for hot flashes. [Did anyone seriously think that something with the word “dong” in it could help a woman with hot flashes?]

Last but not least is this pearl of wisdom that should really help you sleep tonight:

“Rarely, hot flashes and nights sweats are caused by something other than menopause. Other potential causes include medication side effects, problems with your thyroid, certain cancers and side effects of cancer treatment.”

Okay, then. So. I am going to go take a nap. And when I wake up, I don’t want to hear any more crap out of anyone about anything. Got it?

Writing challenge: What ails you? Set a timer for 10 minutes, 15, or an hour. Write about every little and big ache and pain. Write about how women’s health issues are not taken as seriously as men’s, and how women have been told for ages it’s in their head or that they’re hysterical. Write about how in 2021 a sexually-active woman has to go to a doctor to get many effective forms of birth control, but “Viagra” is going to be sold over the counter. Write about how Hobby Lobby refuses to include birth control in their insurance coverage for their women employees. Write your heart out. And when you’re done, maybe find out who can make a difference in our government to change these shoddy practices and limited research. Write!

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