Sitting at a restaurant chatting away, you suddenly feel a familiar flush start on the skin of your mid chest and creep up to your face. Your friends ask you if you are alright, unable to avoid noticing how flushed your face has become along with the sudden beads of sweat that have appeared on your brow.
Those of us who are peri-menopausal or actually in the midst of menopause are familiar with these flushing episodes that for some women occur up to 30 times a day. Unpredictable interruptions during conversations or sleep at night are regular occurrences for as many as 80% of women during menopause. What causes facial flushing or hot flashes and is there anything that can be done?
Current research believes that menopausal women experience a change in their ability to regulate core body temperature due to a reduction of an adrenaline hormone (norepinephrine) in the brain. This change is what leads to episodes of hot flashes. Some menopausal women develop a narrowed range of temperature tolerance making their bodies overly sensitive to mild elevations of body heat. Eating too spicy of food or wearing too warm of clothes can set off a hot flash and facial flushing.
While loss of estrogen during menopause is a contributor, it is not the cause. Researchers believe this because prepubescent girls who are too young to produce estrogen and menstruate do not have hot flashes. Estrogen is believed to raise the threshold of our body’s response temperature elevation so our bodies do not sweat as easily during these times of heat fluctuations.
Until recently, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was used universally as the first treatment for hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. However, since results of the women’s health study have showed that HRT increases risk of cardiac disease as well as breast cancer, hormone treatments while still given, are used in much lower amounts or for reduced periods of time.
Two non hormone drugs: Neurontin and Clonidine have both been shown in studies to provide relief for hot flashes.