As a practitioner of Chinese medicine with the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program, I have the privilege of providing care for many women with breast cancer. In my discussions with patients, hot flashes are among the most common symptoms people ask for help with, as they cause both physical and emotional distress. In observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here’s a little more information about hot flashes, and some helpful tips on how to reduce the heat — inside and out.
Hot flashes are sudden, and many times, an intense sensation of heat in the body. They are often accompanied by a red, flushed look on the face and sweating. Many women also experience sweating at night (aka night sweats), a rapid heart rate and chills after the night sweats subside. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), they are “a problem for many menopausal women and a common side effect of breast cancer treatment.” Unfortunately, hot flashes aren’t just quick bouts of heat sensations that come and go quickly. They vary in intensity, duration and frequency, and interrupt sleep, often causing a sense of discomfort, anxiety and decreased quality of life.
So what can be done to manage hot flashes? Typically, estrogen (a hormonal drug) is given to treat hot flashes. However, given that estrogen can put women at an increased risk for breast cancer, it is usually avoided by women with a history of breast cancer. For this reason, many women seek out non-pharmacological (aka, non-drug) options.
If you are experiencing hot flashes, here are some ideas you may want to speak with your health care providers about:
- Avoid triggers. According to WebMD, there are certain triggers that may bring on hot flashes. These include stress, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, tight clothing, heat and cigarette smoke.
- Relax. A recent report by NCCAM states that hypnosis sessions can help decrease hot flashes. In the study, women who had hypnosis once per week for five weeks reported a 68 percent reduction in frequency/severity, and experienced an average of 4.39 fewer hot flashes per day.
- Get acupuncture. In June, an article in the medical journal Seminars in Oncology reported on a randomized controlled trial that looked at the use of acupuncture for hot flashes. The study demonstrated that women who had acupuncture treatments two times a week for five weeks, plus five additional treatments, had a reduction in both daytime and evening hot flashes, and a decline in hot flashes that persisted for 12 weeks following the intervention.
For more information on these and other options for treating hot flashes, talk with your health care provider, and contact the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program at Rush University Medical Center at (312) 563-2531.
Angela M. Johnson, Dipl OM, MSTOM, MPH, LAc, is a practitioner of Chinese medicine at Rush University Medical Center