January's a month when "hot" is not typically in your vocabulary - unless you are one of the approximately 37.5 million American women experiencing menopause or perimenopause, when hot flashes and night sweats can be a way of life.
According to MenopauseRx, a leading national menopause support group, requests over the last two years for its free menopause and perimenopause survival kits significantly increased between the months of December and January. From December 2003 to January 2004, the organization saw the number of requests jump 27 percent. And last year the same period showed an increase of 22 percent.
Why? Menopause, like pregnancy, is a time for women to take stock of their lives. January is when feeling better becomes a New Year's resolution. It's time for a fresh start, a new beginning.
Women are typically too busy to do anything for themselves over the holidays, when they're usually extra stressed out over gifts, parties and celebrations, but when the New Year comes they say, "Okay, now it's time to work on feeling better."
A similar phenomenon occurs in September, when vacations are over and kids go back to school. Then, women can focus on themselves and get help if they need it.
MenopauseRx President John Sunyecz, M.D., agrees that the spike in interest between December and January shows that women defer learning about menopause during the month of December, and take action after the holiday season has passed.
Since 2001, MenopauseRx has provided thousands of its Survival Kits to women looking for information and education on how to make menopause manageable.
Some 20 percent of patients sail through menopause without problems, but 80 percent have varying degrees of symptoms, some severe. In treating patients, it's important to respect the personal preferences of patients, many of whom do not want drug intervention.
For those who want to avoid estrogen therapy, I routinely recommend the Remifemin standardized black cohosh extract as an alternative. While its mechanism of action is unclear, research has shown that Remifemin effectively relieves hot flashes and other symptoms, and is safe even for women who should not take estrogen.
I also emphasize the importance of a healthy diet and exercise to complement the therapies I've prescribed.
Whether you wait until after the holidays to chill out as many women do, or act right away, there are many ways to make menopause easier. Check out, for example, the following two Web sites: Menopause Rx (www. menopauserx.com) or Red Hot Mamas (www.redhotmamas.org ).
Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., is a clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine and author of "A Woman's Guide to Menopause & Perimenopause," and "A Manual of Management Counseling for the Perimenopausal and Menopausal Patient: A Clinician's Guide."