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Last night was the first time I have slept through the night in more than a week. Every summer since beginning tamoxifen in 2008, I have had at least one instance of a week or two where my hot flashes and night sweats are so bad that I can’t sleep well for days on end. The pattern is that I will sleep for about an hour, wake up sweltering and sweaty, kick off the blankets, fall back asleep for 10 minutes, and then wake back up freezing and cover up. Repeat eight times and that’s my night. Sound familiar?

It’s important to know your triggers for hot flashes caused by tamoxifen and try to minimize them. Obviously we can’t help the weather and most women complain of more hot flashes in the summer. Even with air conditioning! But the first thing is to try to keep cool and avoid too much sun during the hottest part of the day. I love the beach, but the sun doesn’t love me (or my skin which was also treated with radiation). I have a tent for the beach that allows me to sit by the ocean and read a book while keeping cool (thanks to the vents in the sides of the tent) and out of the sun. No sunburn/sun exposure = fewer hot flashes.

For me, sodium intake makes a huge difference in hot flashes as well. Eating at home as opposed to at a restaurant or getting takeout is a great way to keep the sodium and hot flashes at bay. It’s a great excuse to eat a little healthier and stay on track too. Processed and packaged foods often contain large amounts of sodium and should be avoided to help with hot flashes – and overall health too.

Alcohol sometimes leads to hot flashes for me too, especially hard liquors. It’s hard to resist the temptation of a mai thai or margarita in the warm summer months, but it certainly is the best choice for me in the long run. I usually go with a glass of wine, and just have one. I do find that it helps. Keep in mind that staying hydrated is key to keeping hot flashes at bay, so drink plenty of water as well.

Finally, exercise actually does affect hot flashes brought on by tamoxifen, at least for me. It is counter-intuitive because obviously you get hot and sweaty when working out, and this is what you are trying to avoid, but I find that my night sweats and hot flashes are reduced when I am working out regularly.

I have about 11 months left out of my five years on tamoxifen and I am hopeful that these symptoms will disappear when I stop taking the medication next year.

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