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What is a Hot Flash?

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If you are somewhere between the ages of 40 to 50, chances are you’ve experienced at least one hot flash. Why 40 to 50? Because that’s the time when many women begin to enter perimenopause on their way to menopause.

Wait … there’s a difference? Yes, there is!

Actual menopause is the complete cessation of menstrual cycles. Medically speaking, menopause is defined as 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle.

Every woman knows she will eventually reach menopause. But, what she might not know is that she will also enter peri-menopause first, the time around menopause.

Perimenopause is the five to 10 year period before actual menopause, when hormone fluctuations trigger symptoms such as erratic menstrual cycles, mood changes, sleep disturbances, weight gain, and oh yes, hot flashes!

In fact, outside of insomnia, hot flashes and night sweats are generally considered the hallmark symptom signaling the onset of perimenopause.

What is a Hot Flash?

A hot flash is essentially what it sounds like: A sudden sensation of heat, which radiates over the entire body. Hot flashes can cause a little perspiration or full-on heavy sweating, under the arms, around the base of the hairline, on the face, and even behind the knees!

Some women describe hot flashes as heat radiating all around their body enveloping them like a hot bubble.

Some women experience a red flushing on their face and body during hot flashes. They can also be accompanied with nausea, dizziness, headaches, anxiety, and even heart palpitations (but not always). Hot flash episodes may only last a few minutes but a woman may continue to have them for several years.

Hot flashes which occur at night, also known as night sweats, can interfere with sleep, adding exhaustion to your list of aggravating and frustrating symptoms in perimenopause!

And while hot flashes and night sweats can certainly be uncomfortable, and maybe even alarming if you are also experiencing dizziness and/or heart palpitations as well, the good news is they are not a serious health issue.

In fact, they are quite common among women in perimenopause and menopause, with as many as 85 percent of all women experiencing them at one time or another, according to Christiane Northrup, M.D., a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness.

What Causes Hot Flashes in Perimenopause?

Several triggers for hot flashes have been noted. Alcohol, specifically red wine, can trigger hot flashes for some women. Stress, caffeine, spicy food, and just good old-fashioned hot temperatures can trigger them as well.

Medically speaking, however, hot flashes have been linked to low estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause.

According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D., other hormones may also play a role in causing hot flashes. Low testosterone levels, fluctuating levels of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), LH (luteinizing hormone), and progesterone during perimenopause can all be contributing factors.

Most physicians will tell you they do not know exactly what causes hot flashes during perimenopause and menopause. But there is a general consensus that they are definitely related to hormone changes.

If you are experiencing hot flashes and night sweats and are of menopause age, it is highly likely they are indeed associated with fluctuating hormones.

The bad news is they are certainly uncomfortable, but the good news is, they are not serious and will pass eventually!


Menopause: Finding Relief to its Symptoms: Health.USNews.com. Retrieved July 8, 2015. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2013/07/20/menopause-finding-relief-to-its-symptoms

Menopause-related Hot Flashes and Night Sweats Can Last for Years. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved July 8, 2015. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/menopause-related-hot-flashes-night-sweats-can-last-years-201502237745

Hot Flashes. Dr. Christiane Northup, M.D. Retrieved July 8, 2015. http://www.drnorthrup.com/hot-flashes

Red Wine Causes Hot Flashes. Healthline.com. Retrieved July 8, 2015. http://www.healthline.com/health-blogs/hold-that-pause/red-wine-causes-hot-flashes

Reviewed July 10, 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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