Hot flashes and night sweats are two of the most common symptoms of menopause. More than one million women in the United States experience menopause each year and roughly 80 percent of those women have hot flashes, according to Dr. Mache Seibel, a faculty member for menopause treatment at Harvard Medical School and an author of Working Through Menopause: The Impact on Women, Businesses and the Bottom Line. Despite the large number of women suffering from hot flashes and night sweats, many people, whether employers, family members, or even doctors fail to see the impact it can have on women’s mental health and well-being.
“It affects the person in a lot of ways,” says Dr. Seibel. “Women can feel like they’re literally on fire, which is uncomfortable, disruptive, and makes it so they’re not able to do anything.” Despite this, moderate to severe hot flashes — also called vasomotor symptoms (VMS)—are not treated in most women, and because of the lack of public health education, women are the ones suffering. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The first step is raising awareness about the impact of menopausal symptoms and what can be done about them. “The first thing to understand is that there are treatments for hot flashes,” says Dr. Seibel. “There’s no reason to suffer in silence and to endure this or try and tough it out. Women should talk to their health care providers about treatments because there are new medicines coming out in the near future.”
How it impacts work
A study published in the August 2014 issue of Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society evaluated 500,000 women with hot flashes. Half of them were treated for their hot flashes, and the other half were not treated for their hot flashes. The women who were not treated for their hot flashes missed more work, were less productive, and were absent more often. There was also a lack of focus and they had on average, six more doctor’s visits per 12-month period than the women who were treated for their hot flashes.
“If you’re sitting there, trying to get your work done, or in a meeting, and all of a sudden, you start sweating to the point that you were drenching your clothes and your face/neck turn bright red,” says Dr. Seibel. “Everyone around you is noticing, you need to change clothes, but there’s nowhere to go so you can’t focus because of how you’re feeling about your appearance. It causes a certain lack of self-esteem and can impact performance, which causes women to not be able to rise to their potential at a time when they are actually at the peak of their careers because they’ve been working for decades and have institutional knowledge, work experience, and the assets a good employee rising up would have, but yet they’re being hindered by a normal biologic process.”
How it impacts daily life
With night sweats, sleep can oftentimes be disturbed. “You could be going sound asleep and then suddenly you’re just hot and drenched in sweat, have to change clothes,” says Dr. Seibel. “That’s very disturbing for sleep, which can lead to other issues.” According to the CDC, several studies show similarities between fatigue-related impairment in cognitive and physiological functioning and impairments due to alcohol intoxication. For example, being awake for 17 hours is similar to having a BAC of O.05%, and being awake for 24 hours is similar to having a BAC of 0.10% (the United States defines legal intoxication for purposes of driving as a BAC of 0.08% or greater). With that in mind, a lack of sleep can be detrimental to your focus, and concentration in addition to negatively impacting your mood (can make you more irritable, agitated, or anxious) and memory.
How it impacts relationships
It’s no secret that painful sex can sometimes be a symptom of menopause, but what about hot flashes and/or night sweats? “If you’re feeling tired, irritable, foggy, grumpy, sleep deprived, etc., it doesn’t do well with relationships,” says Dr. Seibel. Bothersome hot flashes, especially if they’re associated with night sweats and sleep disruption, certainly could affect your sexual interest, according to the North American Menopause Society. When your overall quality of life is poor and you’re tired from rustling the covers all night, sleep may take priority over sex, but it doesn’t have to stay like that. As Dr. Seibel mentioned, women don’t have to live with burdening hot flashes or night sweats. There are home remedies you can try or treatment options available. The best thing to do is talk to your doctor to discover which route may be best for you so you can get back to living your best life.
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