Hate to break it to you, but there's someone screwing you over in the hot-flashes department. Yep, it's you. For starters, we're guessing you don't get your menopause info from an expert source. Your doctor means well, we promise, but chances are her specialty isn't the Big Change. Your best bet is finding a certified menopause practitioner near you at menopause.org. (Looking for ways to ease your menopause symptoms? Then check out The Natural Menopause Solution for simple, effective tips.)
In the meantime, you can set yourself up for success by avoiding the all-too-common pitfalls below. Here are some of the major menopause no-nos you might be guilty of:
1. You're not telling your doc about your supplements.
And who could blame you? In a recent North American Menopause Society study, some 53 percent of women said they've tried everything from vitamins and herbal supplements to acupuncture and massage to help with hot flashes, anxiety, pain, fatigue, and other disruptive menopause symptoms.
The issue is that it's tricky to know just what you're getting, since supplements aren't FDA regulated, said ob-gyn Dr. Kathryn Macaulay, director of the Menopause Health Program at the University of California–San Diego and a clinical professor of reproductive medicine at the UCSD Medical Center.
That doesn't mean they can't help; black cohosh, for example, has some pretty substantial research behind its ability to ward off hot flashes. But she recommends telling your doctor what you're trying, so at the very least she can direct you toward a reputable brand.
2. You're ignoring the basics.
How much sleep did you get last night? How much water have you been drinking? How off the wall is your stress right now? There's nothing groundbreaking about age-old health wisdom about eating your veggies, getting enough sleep, and taking time to chill, but sticking to the fundamentals can dramatically reduce the severity of your most exhausting menopause symptoms.
Macaulay suggested preparing ahead of time: Get close to your ideal body weight before you enter the menopause home stretch. Metabolism and hormonal changes make it that much harder to whittle your middle after menopause. (Take a look at this new, easy science-backed way to lose 10 pounds—no dieting or exercising required.)
3. You're banking on those hot flashes passing—and quickly.
"Sure, I'm drowning in my own sweat," you think, "but I can put up with a year of this, I'm tough!" Sorry to burst your perspiring bubble, but you're likely to be facing more than a yearlong sentence: Hot flashes actually seem to last more like seven years (seriously, sorry). We get that you want to look tough—it's just a little sweat right?!—but seven years is a long time to be carrying around that battery-operated fan you've got in your purse.
If hot flashes are causing big-time disruption—in sleep and in your day-to-day, once-sweat-free life—stop waiting it out and look into treatment options, says Macaulay.
4. You're assuming hormone therapy isn't for you.
Speaking of treatment: Hormone therapy is the best tool we've got to put hot flashes to rest, and it's likely safer than you've heard.
"The risks seem to be higher in women over the age of 60 or more than 10 years from menopause," Macaulay said. "For younger, relatively healthy women, the risks are actually quite low."
Before you write off the very treatment that could spare you, it's worth talking to an experienced doc who can evaluate the benefits you individually stand to gain from HT, she said.
Of course, hormone therapy will still be deemed too risky for some women, Macaulay said, but do not lose hope of a life without hot flashes: There's now an FDA-approved, non-hormonal medication that can help called Brisdelle, which is actually a very low dose of a common antidepressant. Similar products are regularly used by ob-gyns off label, Macaulay said.
"If a woman is not interested in using estrogen or has contraindications, if the symptoms are bothersome, talk to a physician about the non-hormonal options that are out there."
5. You're resigning yourself to subpar sex.
Where is it written that sex post-menopause has to suck? Now that the kids are out of the house, it's time to have sex in every room! Okay, maybe not every room. But hear us out: Gone are the days when it was taboo to bring up your sex life with your doctor, Macaulay said.
"I would not want women to make the mistake of not feeling comfortable talking to their physician about sexual disfunction or painful intercourse," she said.
If you feel icky just thinking about bringing it up at your next appointment, it's time for a new doc, pronto. He can help you stop avoiding sex, whether it's by prescribing a vaginal estrogen or just giving you a good lube recommendation. And stop blushing already!