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How Can You Tell If You're Really Having a Hot Flash?

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Taking Pulse Lev Dolgachov/PhotoSpin

Hot flashes- women hear about them long before menopause, but what do they actually feel like? How do you know if you’re having a hot flash or you’re just plain hot?

I live in a large 180-year-old house in North Carolina. In the winter, this house gets cold! I’ve taken to wearing a wool sweater AND a fleece. One January night, I was reading on the couch, in my winter wear.

All of a sudden I was hot. I mean really hot.

“Yikes! I’m burning up,” I said to my husband Cliff. I tore off the fleece and then the sweater.

Cliff looked hopeful, as if I might not argue over the thermostat anymore. (I care about creature comfort. He cares about the heating bill.)

Within a minute or so, I was chilly again. Back on went my sweater and then the fleece. These sudden moments of internal heat lasted for a month or so and then passed.

I was lucky. My hot flashes were mild. This week, I quizzed my online blogger friends to learn what theirs were like. Wow! Read what they have to say:

  • “Mine start from the inside out. Beads of sweat immediately appear on my upper lip and forehead.”
  • “I used to think steam was coming out of my ears.”
  • “It’s like a furnace exploded in my core and is radiating to my extremities.”
  • “A hot flash is 100 degree heat paired with 100 percent humidity.”
  • “I feel like I’m getting my hair washed, and the water is way too hot!"
  • “It’s inside me, clawing its way out into the universe. My ability to think clearly goes out the window.”
  • “When it ends, I feel like I just ran three miles and I’m sweating like I did two hours of yard work.”
  • “It’s an ocean wave that drowns me in fire.”
  • “I’m suddenly in an oven and there’s no way out for a few minutes.”
  • Five women described their hot flashes as “spontaneous combustion.”
  • And this is my very favorite: “It’s enough to make a modest, quiet lady like me want to rip off her clothes in public!”

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of a hot flash include:

  • A feeling of warmth that comes on quickly and spreads to your face and upper torso
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Perspiration, especially on the your upper body
  • Chills as the hot flash passes

Hot flashes can last from seconds to minutes, although they rarely last longer than five minutes. Some women have many a day, others just a few. Women who have total hysterectomies and those taking the breast cancer drug tamoxifen often experience hot flashes too.

And, like my hot flashes compared to the women above, there’s no norm. The website 34 Menopause Symptoms states, “The experience of hot flashes can range between delicate flushes to a sensation of engulfing flames.”

If you’re unsure if you’re having hot flashes, check with your doctor. You’ll be asked to describe what you’re experiencing, and in most cases, your doctor will be able to determine if these episodes really are hot flashes. According to Medicine.net, “Blood tests may be performed if the diagnosis is unclear, either to measure hormone levels or to look for signs of other conditions (such as infection) that could be responsible for the hot flashes.”

Some women refer to their hot flashes as “power surges.” What a great spin!

One friend wrote, “I try to celebrate my hot flashes, as not all women get to experience them.” This upbeat statement reminds me of the girls who are proud and pleased to get their first period. (I wasn’t one of them.)

Menopause brings on challenges, but indeed, it’s a time to celebrate. We’re free of PMS, monthly periods, and the fear of unwanted pregnancy. I’m now bolder, more creative, and more energetic than ever, and most of my menopausal friends feel the same way. And to top it off, Cliff and I just bought a brand new energy-efficient house. Goodbye fleece!


How Are Hot Flashes Diagnosed? Medicine net. Retrieved July 7, 2015. http://www.medicinenet.com/hot_flashes/page2.htm

Menopause: Symptoms. Mayo Clinic.org. Retrieved July 7, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hot-flashes/basics/symptoms/con-20034883

Hot Flashes. 34 Menopause Symptoms.com. Retrieved July 7, 2015. http://www.34-menopause-symptoms.com/#hotflashes

Reviewed July 9, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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