8 Ways to Cope When Chemo Causes Hot Flashes

By Heather LaBruna
Reviewed by Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

The fast heartbeat, the sweating, dizziness and headache. It’s only a matter of time before the start of the main event—otherwise known as the hot flash.

Hot flashes brought on by chemotherapy aren’t talked about, the way hair loss and nausea are. But because some chemo meds damage the ovaries, it’s not uncommon to experience the sudden rush of heat normally associated with menopause, as well as other menopausal symptoms, such as energy loss and irritability.

How to deal with hot flashes
You don’t have to live with hot flashes. To keep cool, talk to your healthcare provider, and check out these 8 tips:

  1. Pinpoint—and avoid—your triggers, which can range from alcohol and caffeine to spicy foods and smoking. Other culprits include hot tubs and saunas. Keeping a hot-flash diary may help you spot patterns.
  2. Wear lots of light layers. Start with moisture-wicking underwear, then add tops, cardigans and light knits made of breathable cotton. As your internal temperature fluctuates, you can easily shed or add layers as needed. Shun wool, rayon, synthetics and silk, which can seal in moisture; skip turtlenecks in favor of open-neck tops; and, no matter the season, stick to pale colors.
  3. If you can’t stand the heat, go to the kitchen—and open the freezer! Let the frigid air hit your face for several seconds. While you’re there, grab a bag of frozen veggies and place it on your chest or anywhere else you’re feeling the heat.
  4. Toss baby wipes into your tote. On the go when a hot flash hits? Simply moisten your face, neck or other hot spot with a wipe. Then, cool your moistened skin even more with a handheld fan (paper or battery-operated).
  5. Keep ice-cold H2O on hand. When the heat starts to rise, guzzle water. You’ll get relief from the feeling of cold water rushing down your throat and into your stomach, and it will lessen the flash’s severity.
  6. Send stress packing! Find your favorite healthy way to de-stress—meditation, massage, deep breathing—and practice it regularly: A study in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that women who do just that have fewer and less severe hot flashes than women who don’t de-stress.
  7. Set the stage for a good night’s sleep. Lower the thermostat to about 67 degrees Fahrenheit, and use either a ceiling or table fan to circulate the air around your bed. Stick to cotton sheets and linens, and wear cotton or moisture-wicking nightwear. Before turning in, take a cool shower.
  8. Talk with your oncologist about two things: (1) Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Taken in the short term, HRT can effectively manage hot flashes and other symptoms; and (2) supplements. Vitamin B complex, vitamin E and ibuprofen also have been found to bring relief. Ask your oncologist about the pros and cons of HRT, supplements and other medications. (Just note that people with breast cancer aren’t eligible for HRT.)
Published March 2014

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