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An Expert Reveals How to Tell Whether Your Night Sweats Are Due to Menopause

Cam Zhang

As the nights get colder and the heater temps go up, we’re all bound to experience some restless nights fighting with our indoor environments and blankets. However, for uterus-owners who are in the 40s to 50s age range (and even perimenopausal age of late 30s to 40s), it can be hard to differentiate between regular night sweats versus VMS due to menopause. VMS, short for, Vasomotor Symptoms, is the scientific name used for hot flashes and/or night sweats often associated with menopause. This is the most common issue that people who are going through this natural stage of life seek to alleviate the most. 

Nonetheless, it can be increasingly difficult to determine whether night sweats are due to menopause. Regardless of the reason, all cases of night sweats can disturb your natural sleep cycle. There are fluctuating underlying causes and also alleviations for both. Below, an expert dives into the critical distinctions and answers some frequently asked questions.

What are the differences between regular night sweats and VMS?

Dr. Karen Zhang of the University of California, San Francisco says if you’re having only night sweats and no other syndromes, that’s not usually something to (no pun intended) sweat about. According to the Mayo Clinic, that’s likely to be attributed to other underlying health conditions such as medications, hormone balances, or even plain old stress and anxiety, which can trigger cases of VMS outside of menopause.

If you’re in the age range for perimenopause/menopause, look for other indicators such as chills, hot flashes during the daytime, irregular periods, and even weight gain and slowed metabolism. The reason VMS due to menopause happens is that the body’s level of estrogen and NKB (a brain chemical that balances body temperature) irregulate, so it tells your hypothalamus in your brain that you’re hot when you’re not. Hot flashes and night sweats are your body’s way of reacting in an attempt to cool down. 

At what age do women start experiencing VMS during menopause?

According to Dr. Zhang, she notes that “on average, people start to experience menopause at or around the age of 50, but the symptoms can start five years before and last ten years after periods start to end.” Basically, VMS due to menopause is something to keep an eye on for people anywhere in their mid-forties to even their early sixties. 

What are some key factors that can contribute to an increased likelihood of experiencing VMS due to menopause i.e. genetics, and hormone levels?

Risk factors include if a patient’s “mom also had symptoms during menopause”, so looking back at genetics is definitely a crucial tie-in to talk about with your healthcare provider. If you or your mother’s menopause was before age 52, or if menopause was induced, i.e. a hysterectomy, these are all issues that can add to the likelihood of VMS.

Are there risk factors for VMS due to menopause in different races/ethnicities and body types?

As for race/ethnic backgrounds and body types, Dr. Zhang notes the probability of having VMS due to menopause is the same in everyone. “Some research has been skewed towards different ethnicities just because there were less of a race in a study, so they were found to be three times more likely to be a super flasher (women who have VMS during menopause for fifteen plus years) and severe symptoms.” This is because the overall study didn’t have a control number of participants that had an equal racial divide. There’s more that needs to be researched in terms of the true statistical probabilities of VMS risks in varying ethnicities.

Are there ways to prevent regular night sweats that are not menopause related?

Talk to your physician about what probable underlying conditions might be causing your regular night sweats, and adjust accordingly. For example, if it’s a hormonal imbalance, your doctor may recommend a new diet or exercise to help with alleviating the issue.

As for other immediate ways to deal, make sure to keep your bedroom dark and cool, have lightweight bedding and pajamas, and keep hydrated with cool water. Avoid alcohol or any other bodily disruptors that can interfere with your sleep any further as you adjust your sleeping routine.

Are there ways to lessen the symptoms of VMS?

VMS is a real condition and one that can have a big impact on your life. To help keep yourself cool when a hot flash comes on, Dr. Zhang recommends light exercise such as yoga, dressing coolly, staying in chillier/well-regulated environments, and staying hydrated to combat any more intense bouts of VMS. 

But in order to fight against it, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider about what type of treatment is right for you. The most important thing is, to be honest, and open about your symptoms when speaking to your doctor. Your healthcare provider can help you find the best treatment and options that are ultimately right for you. Remember, neither VMS nor menopause are things to be ashamed of, and taking that first step to treatment can be empowering as you enter the next phase of your life.

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