A hot flash is a sudden feeling of warmth that spreads through your body, concentrated in the face and neck area. It’s most often accompanied by flushing and sweating and generally lasts from 30 seconds to several minutes.
Hot flashes are a common symptom experienced during perimenopause and afterward, but they may also be a warning sign of a more serious condition such as a pancreatic tumor, hyperthyroidism or a number of other health concerns.
The best way to determine if your hot flashes are typical is to monitor the frequency and severity of your body’s reaction. Ask yourself if they are affecting your daily functioning. Keep a daily hot flash journal for a few weeks so you can provide the information to your doctor.
Hot Flash Severity and Frequency Levels
Mild: These hot flashes are barely noticeable. They are fairly infrequent, of short duration, and do not interfere with your daily routine. They may disturb your sleep.
Moderate: These flashes are more frequent and definitely noticeable with more intense heat and a longer duration. Still, they are manageable and do not interfere with your routine to the extent that you consider them a problem.
Severe: These episodes are intense. They may occur during the day and night. They happen frequently and may also last long enough to require you to step away from your activities until they pass. Disturbed sleep is frequently associated with fatigue. The symptoms are such that you must seek relief immediately, and your daily routine is disrupted.
So which level do you experience? Keeping this information in your journal, including how you feel before, during, and after, can help you and your doctor determine the answer.
- Frequency: How often are you experiencing hot flashes each day and during the night? What are the most common times?
- Duration: How long do your episodes last? Are you able to use common methods such as deep breathing, hydrating with cool water, or wearing light clothing to relieve them temporarily?
- Heart Rate: Is your heart rate increase noticeable? How long does it take for your heart rate to return to normal? Do you feel any chest pressure or pain?
- Concentration and Focus: Do you find your thinking is “fuzzy” before, during, or after a hot flash? How long does the feeling last? Is short-term memory a problem?
- Nausea and Dizziness: Do you experience dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting during or after a hot flash? How long does the feeling last?
- Breathing: Does your breathing become heavy, shallow or labored? How long after the hot flash passes does it take for your breathing to return to normal?
- Management Methods: Do regular management methods ease your symptoms? Examples: drinking cool water, wearing light clothing, or applying a cool cloth or ice pack.
- Quality of Life: Do your hot flashes disturb your daily routine? Are you adjusting your plans and tasks to accommodate your hot flash episodes?
Not only can keeping a record of your hot flash symptom severity help your doctor properly monitor for additional health concerns, but it can also aid in deciding which treatment plan is best for you.
Hot Flashes. MedicineNet.com. Retrieved January 26, 2016. http://www.medicinenet.com/hot_flashes/symptoms.htm
What Do Hot Flashes Feel Like. 34 Menopause Symptoms.com. Retrieved January 26, 2016. http://www.34-menopause-symptoms.com/hot-flashes/articles/what-do-hot-flashes-feels-like.htm
Nonhormonal management of menopause-associated vasomotor symptoms:2015 position statement of The North American Menopause Society; Vol.22, No.11, pp.1155 1174, 2015. http://www.menopause.org/docs/default-source/professional/pap-pdf-meno-d-15-00241-minus-trim-cme.pdf
When Menopause Isn't Behind Your Hot Flashes. By Kristen Stewart. Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH. Everyday Health.com. Retrieved January 26, 2016. http://www.everydayhealth.com/menopause/when-menopause-isnt-behind-your-hot-flashes.aspx
Reviewed January 29, 2016
By Michele Blacksberg RN
Philip Sarrel, M.D. and Lorna Sarrel, M.S.