Managing Your Hot Flashes Without Hormones

This information will help you manage your hot flashes without using hormones.

Hot flashes are caused by changes in hormone levels in both women and men. This may happen during therapy to treat or prevent cancer because the treatments can affect hormone levels. For women, hot flashes can be a natural part of menopause.

Hot flashes usually begin as a warm feeling in your face, neck, chest, or back, which may spread to your entire body. Hot flashes can range from light warming and reddening of the skin to drenching sweats. Some people have 1 or 2 hot flashes a day while others have several an hour.

Hot flashes can come on suddenly during the day and can interrupt your sleep at night. For some people, hot flashes can be a mild annoyance. For other people, they are much more uncomfortable.

How to Manage Hot Flashes

Hot flashes may be difficult to live with but there are things you can do to help manage them.

Avoid triggers

Triggers are actions that may bring about hot flashes. While you won’t be able to completely prevent hot flashes, try to avoid behaviors that may start them, such as:

  • Smoking or being around smoke.
  • Drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks.
  • Eating spicy foods.
  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Feeling stressed.

Dress comfortably

  • Wear clothing made of cotton or absorbent material.
  • Dress in layers of lightweight clothing.
  • Wear loose-fitting, cotton pajamas to bed.

Keep cool

  • Adjust your thermostat to a comfortable temperature.
  • Use a room or hand-held fan.
  • Sleep near an open window.
  • Change your bed sheets to lighter fabrics, such as cotton, linen, or jersey.
  • Use a Chillow®, which is a personal cooling pillow that can help with sleep. You can search online to find stores near you that carry them.
  • Avoid taking hot baths or showers.

Exercise

Doing some form of exercise each day can help reduce stress and manage hot flashes.

Perform deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing is an exercise that can help you relax. Doing them a few times a day or right before you feel a hot flash coming on will help decrease how severe it is. Breathing exercises can also help reduce the number of hot flashes you get per day.

Here are instructions on how to do deep breathing exercises:

  1. Get into a comfortable position in a chair or in your bed. Raise your head as much as possible.
  2. Place 1 hand on your stomach, just below your ribs. If you’re right handed, use your right hand; if you’re left handed, use your left hand.
  3. Breathe out completely through your mouth.
  4. If you can, close your eyes and breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. Feel your stomach push up on your hand. Imagine that air is filling your whole body from the bottom up.
  5. Pause for a couple of seconds. Then, breathe out slowly through your mouth or nose. Try to breathe out completely and imagine the air leaving your lungs, mouth, or nose.
  6. As you breathe out, allow your body to relax and go limp—like a rag doll.
  7. Repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times.
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Treatment Options for Hot Flashes

There are also several treatments that can help you manage your hot flashes.

Complementary and alternative therapies

Our Integrative Medicine Program offers many services that may help you manage hot flashes, such as acupuncture, meditation, and hypnosis.

To learn about other complementary therapies available at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), call the Integrative Medicine Service at 646-888-0800 or visit our website: www.mskcc.org/IntegrativeMedicine.

Medication

If hot flashes are impacting your life and other methods don’t help, you may want to talk with your doctor about trying medication.

Hormone replacement is usually not an option for people who’ve had certain cancers. This is because many cancer treatments are aimed at lowering hormone levels, and taking hormone replacement would increase your hormone levels. Instead, your doctor or nurse practitioner may suggest other medications, including:

  • Low doses of antidepressants, such as venlafaxine (Effexor®), paroxetine (Paxil®), or fluoxetine (Prozac®), citalopram (Celexa®), escitalopram (Lexapro®)
  • Antiseizure medications, such as gabapentin (Neurontin®)

Before taking any of these medications, be sure to ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about possible side effects and whether they might affect your cancer treatment.

Herbal remedies

No herbal therapy has been proven to be effective against hot flashes, so we do not suggest the use of herbs for this purpose. This includes herbal remedies that contain isoflavones, which are found in soy. While some people report that herbal remedies can help, it’s also possible that they could interfere with cancer treatments.

If you’re considering herbal remedies, please visit MSK’s Integrative Medicine site for more information about herbs and botanicals at www.aboutherbs.com. There you’ll find information about what different herbs are used for and what the research says about them.

Before taking any herbal remedies, talk about it with your doctor or nurse.

If you find that your hot flashes are impacting your day to day activities, talk with a member of your healthcare team. Together, you can select the approach that is right for you.

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