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Hot Flushes

     Lifestyle tips and coping strategies


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Hot flushes are described a sudden unpleasant sensation of burning heat spreading across the face, neck and chest, can occur. Shortly after the sweat patients can then feel cold and clammy and even shiver. Some patients experience one or two flushes a week, whilst others can have ten or more a day but generally, the number of hot flushes will decrease over time.

Night sweats are described as a sudden sweat often linked to hot flushes and tend to happen at night. Patients sometimes find that their sleep patterns are disturbed because of these sweats. Research published form our team has shown that trying different hormone drugs many help or if this fails limited success has been gained from some prescribed drugs including; progesterone, clonidine or antidepressants. All these drugs of course have side effects of their own so lifestyle strategies are certainly worth a try first. 

Causes - All women will naturally go through the menopause usually between 50-55 years of age. Some lucky women have very few effects but in other they suffer considerable hot flushes and night sweats. Some cancer treatments interfere with the function of the ovaries in women or testes in men. This often causes hot flushes which may be permanent or temporary. The risk of this should have been discussed before the start of therapy. The ovaries and testes have two main functions; to produce eggs and sperm and to produce sex hormones (testosterone in men & oestrogen and progesterone in women). In pre-menopausal women the 3 main causes ovarian failure which can cause menopausal hot flushes are:

Other drugs can cause hot flushes without necessarily affecting ovarian failure. These include hormone therapy such as

Non hormonal drugs can also cause or increase the severity of hot flushes ven less obvious causes such as some bone hardening drugs. such as the bisphosphonates


What can you do to help?

Many people practice self-help techniques that can assist in making hot flushes less uncomfortable. You may find it useful to keep a note of when you have hot flushes so that you can identify any pattern. If you know when to expect hot flushes you can be better prepared. Otherwise here are some practical tips which may help:

Clothes, environment and hot flushes:

Diet & hot flushes:

Smoking & hot flushes:

Relaxation techniques:

Stress can increase the number and intensity of hot flushes a person has. Being anxious about hot flushes could make your symptoms worse. Knowing what to expect and being prepared will help you feel more in control and ease your anxiety. Relaxation therapy can reduce stress and flushes. Hot flushes usually come and go over short periods, so try to relax and wait for the sensation to pass. You may find it helps to imagine yourself in a cool place, for example by the sea, when you feel a hot flush coming on. It may also help to know that although hot flushes are uncomfortable for you, other people are unlikely to notice them happening. (For information on training courses and resources, contact the Stress Management Training Institute. There is also a wide range of relaxation tapes available from health food shops and bookshops).  

Weight control

Exercise & hot flushes

Regular gentle exercise may help reduce hot flushes. Choose an activity that you enjoy and feel comfortable with. (see exercise section on how to exercise after cancer)

Medical interventions

These are listed after lifestyle strategies on this page as it is always worth trying non-drug therapies first as drugs can have risks and side effects of their own. Nevertheless, if hot flushes persist and are affecting your quality of life then it will be worth discussing drugs with your general practitioner / oncologist

Change current medication. If you are post menopausal and are taking tamoxifen for breast cancer it may be worth discussing changing to an aromatase inhibitor such as anastrozole. Although these can also cause hot flushes and have other side effects a recent study showed they are, in general, not as severe. (read full paper by Thomas et al). In any case if after trying AI's  for 6-8week you can then be in a position to choose which one suits you best. If you are already taking an aromatase inhibitor and still have troublesome hot flushes you may wish to discuss with your doctor switching to a different brand. There was a piblished trial which showed that a significant proportion of women had a different group of symptoms after they tried switching (read full paper by Thomas and Makris et al)

  • Clonidine
  • Venlaflexine
  • Progesterone

Complimentary therapies & hot flushes

Many patients use a range of complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, reflexology, chiropractic measures, massage and meditation. Strong evidence for these has not been published but there are a number of interesting anecdotal reports of success. If you want to try a complementary approach it is best to go to a recognised, qualified practitioner.

Homeopathic remedies: Homeopathic remedies recommended for hot flushes include sage, pulsatilla, rhubarb, root extract, sulpha and graphites. A qualified homeopath will prescribe the remedies that are best for you.

Aromatherapy: Some patients find that aromatherapy massage with essential oils such as clary sage and chamomile improves symptoms.

Herbal remedies: Ginseng, black cogosh, dong quai, lavender, fennel, false unicorn toot and wild yam are all herbal or plant remedies that have been used to relieve menopausal symptoms. Some of these herbal remedies help because they have phytoestrogenic properties so it is important to discuss with your cancer specialist first. Most herbalists will tell you that sage is a natural anhidrotic (reduces sweating) and can help excess sweating during the hot flush.

Massage, & reflexology: Are perfectly safe. There is absolutely no evidence that they can push cancer cells around the body as is commonly quoted in folk law. Although evidence of benefit is lacking they are enjoyable and relaxing.

Acupuncture: The are now some good randomised trials showing a good benefit from acupuncture. Certainly acupuncture has been found to be as good as anti-depressants such as venlaflexaine