Hot flashes: Diagnosis & treatment
Your doctor can usually diagnose hot flashes based on a description of your symptoms. Your doctor might suggest blood tests to check whether you're in menopausal transition.
The most effective way to relieve the discomfort of hot flashes is to take estrogen, but taking this hormone carries risks. If estrogen is appropriate for you and you start it within 10 years of your last menstrual period or before age 60, the benefits can be greater than the risks.
Medications such as antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs also might help reduce hot flashes, although they're less effective than hormones.
Discuss the pros and cons of various treatments with your doctor. If hot flashes don't interfere with your life, you probably don't need treatment. Hot flashes subside gradually for most women, even without treatment, but it can take several years for them to stop.
Estrogen is the primary hormone used to reduce hot flashes. 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).
With either regimen, the therapy needs to be tailored to your needs. Guidelines suggest using the smallest effective dose for symptom control. How long you use the treatment depends on the balance of your risks and benefits from hormone therapy. The goal is to optimize your quality of life.
Some women who take progesterone with estrogen therapy experience progesterone-related side effects. For women who can't tolerate oral progesterone, a combination drug of bazedoxifene with conjugated estrogens (Duavee) is also approved for treating menopausal symptoms. Like progesterone, taking bazedoxifene with estrogen may help you avoid the increased risk of endometrial cancer from estrogen alone. Bazedoxifene might also protect your bones.
If you have had or are at risk of breast or endometrial cancer, heart disease, stroke or blood clots, talk to your doctor about whether estrogen therapy is right for you.
A low-dose form of paroxetine (Brisdelle) is the only nonhormone treatment for hot flashes approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Other antidepressants that have been used to treat hot flashes include:
- Venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
- Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
These medications aren't as effective as hormone therapy for severe hot flashes, but they can be helpful to women who can't use hormones. Possible side effects include nausea, difficulty sleeping or drowsiness, weight gain, dry mouth or sexual dysfunction.
Other prescription medications
Other medications that might offer relief for some women include:
- Gabapentin (Neurontin, Gralise, others). Gabapentin is an anti-seizure medication that's moderately effective in reducing hot flashes. Side effects can include drowsiness, dizziness, water retention in the limbs (edema) and fatigue.
- Pregabalin (Lyrica). Pregabalin is another anti-seizure medication that can be effective in reducing hot flashes. Side effects can include dizziness, drowsiness, difficulty concentrating and weight gain.
- Oxybutynin (Ditropan XL, Oxytrol). Oxybutynin is a pill or patch most often used to treat urinary conditions like overactive bladder. It may also help relieve hot flashes in some women. Side effects can include dry mouth, dry eyes, constipation, nausea and dizziness.
- Clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay, others). Clonidine, a pill or patch typically used to treat high blood pressure, might provide some relief from hot flashes. Side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth and constipation.
Nerve block procedure
A procedure known as stellate ganglian block has shown promise for treating moderate to severe hot flashes, but more research is needed. It involves injecting an anesthetic into a nerve cluster in the neck. The treatment has been used for pain management. Side effects include pain and bruising at the injection site.