While summer seems to last longer and longer in the South, many women might be experiencing their own "personal summer" that has less to do with the weather than it does with the symptoms of menopause.
These bothersome menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and irritability, are often exacerbated by things that we least expect. For most of our life, we have ways of dealing with side effects of food and alcohol, but when our estrogen is on a downward rollercoaster, these everyday things can make our symptoms even worse.
For instance, having a glass of wine with dinner or a mixed drink can show up as a series of night sweats a few hours later and can also contribute to insomnia. While alcohol can help us relax and "chill out," sometimes it warms the body and can increase hot flashes immediately or hours later.
Eating spicy foods can also set off your body into menopausal power surges as you dilate your skin blood vessels to deal with the heat. Coffee, chocolate and tea containing caffeine are common culprits that make can amplify mild symptoms into bothersome full body hot sweats. Smoking or being exposed to cigarette smoke can also be a trigger for some women.
Aggravation is perhaps the most common reason women suffer the most with menopausal symptoms. Add the stress of life during a pandemic to this equation and things can be just miserable. Anxiety about exposure to COVID-19, frustration from travel plan changes, work restrictions, and the need to wear a mask are all reasons that your hot flashes could be even worse.
Estrogen is closely tied to the neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin that help keep us calm and cool. Rising blood pressure also can decrease your body's ability to deal with heat, so symptoms feel much worse.
New research studying mindfulness practices, which can take as little as 3 minutes to do, have shown tremendous improvement of bothersome menopausal symptoms.
The good news is the list of treatments for menopausal symptoms continues to grow. From herbal remedies (soy, black cohosh, red clover) to antidepressants (venlafaxine, paroxetine) to hormonal therapies (estrogen, testosterone, progesterone), these treatments often have other positive effects, including reducing the risk of breaking a bone due to osteoporosis, improving sleep, and decreasing depression. The right choice for you is very personal and should be discussed with your health care provider.
Of course, mindfulness and other meditative tools that help us cool down, as well as the right dietary choices, are remedies we can all use. While there's not much we can do about the heat and humidity of summer in South Carolina, we can make our own "personal summer" a little less hot.
Eve A. Ashby, DO, FACOOG, is a board-certified gynecologist at Beaufort Memorial Lowcountry Medical Group.