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Hot flushes are one of the menopause symptoms that some women find most embarrassing, especially in the workplace. The good news is that there are ways to treat them and adjustments that you can make to your work environment.
Carmen* is 54 and works in a busy department store, where she’s usually based in the lingerie department.
She started to get hot flushes around six months before she booked an appointment with Dr Clare Spencer. She hadn’t had a period for 18 months and was getting hot flushes during the day. Although she was (thankfully) not experiencing night sweats, her daytime hot flushes were getting more intense and more frequent.
Carmen was finding work an increasing struggle because of her hot flushes. The shop floor was warm and the uniform policy meant that she had to wear a fitted polyester/cotton mix shirt with a jacket. Drinks on the shop floor were not allowed and it wasn’t easy to keep nipping to the loo to cool down, as the staff toilets took several minutes to get to.
She would dread the onset of a hot flush and could feel the sweat dripping down her back. She felt hot and uncomfortable and highly embarrassed in front of customers – not to mention her colleagues or her young male boss.
At Carmen’s clinic appointment, Clare explained that even though she was postmenopausal, she was still experiencing symptoms of the menopause and how a warm environment, such as the shop floor, could make hot flushes worse.
In the menopause, the body’s temperature regulation is upset so that you react excessively to smaller increases in temperature – hence warm rooms and hot drinks can trigger sweating.
Clare encouraged Carmen to speak to her line manager about adjustments she could make to her workplace. She also gave her information on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and alternative ways of managing hot flushes. They also discussed relaxation and breathing techniques, which can be helpful.
When Carmen spoke to her line manager, she was pleased and relieved to find that he really listened to her. Her boss told her that he hadn’t noticed that she was having flushes, so she was reassured that she did not look too red-faced and sweaty. This alone made her very glad to have spoken up.
Her boss agreed that she could leave her jacket off, and keep a bottle of water discreetly on the shop floor. He understood that she needed to have more frequent short breaks to get into the cooler environment of the staff room and toilet.
This had multiple positive effects. Knowing she had these coping strategies immediately helped Carmen to feel less anxious and stressed. If she felt a hot flush coming, she could quickly take a sip of water or move somewhere cooler.
She felt more in control of her environment and lost the awful anxiety she was feeling every day about the thought of having flushes at work.
Carmen’s hot flushes didn’t completely go away, but learning to take control of them (and the small but important changes to her working environment) made them feel better, and the intensity and frequency of them decreased.
When Clare saw her again, Carmen decided to take HRT, having read about the benefits and small risks, but she felt so much better for the other changes too.
Perhaps your story is like Carmen’s, or maybe it’s completely different. The important thing to remember is that everyone experiences the menopause in their own way with different symptoms.
If you’re unsure about the signs, you can read about the menopause symptoms, take our Menopause Questionnaire or book a consultation with one of the doctors in our menopause clinic.
*While Carmen herself is fictional, her story reflects the experience of many women in the menopause transition.
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