Hot flashes are experienced by up to 80 percent of women going through natural menopause and over 90 percent after a hysterectomy. The two years before and the two years after the last menstrual flow are the times when hot flashes are most frequent and most severe. They can appear suddenly, taking you off-guard and making you wonder about your health. Feeling a sudden rush of heat and increase in heart rate while standing in line at the store can make you wonder “What is going on?”. The best way to deal with hot flashes is learning about them and knowing both what to expect and how to manage the situation.
1. What does a hot flash feel like?
A hot flash is a quick feeling of heat and sometimes a red, flushed face that can be accompanied by sudden sweating. Some women describe it as similar to feeling sunburned or running a fever. Immediately afterward, many women experience some combination of shaking chills or sweating. About one-third of women feel depressed or anxious. Chest pressure, shortness of breath, and headaches also affect a third or more women.
2. What causes a hot flash?
The exact reason for hot flashes during the menopause transition is not known. However, experts believe it’s directly connected to the body’s reaction to a lowering of estrogen.
Some experts theorize that when estrogen decreases, it affects the hypothalamus, which is in charge of regulating body temperature. During a hot flash, the body releases hormones that cause the heart rate to rise and blood vessels in the skin to dilate. The increase in blood flow to the skin raises the skin temperature, sending a heat signal back to the brain. This causes the body to produce its natural cooling method – sweat. As heat is released, you first feel hot and then chilled.
3. How long will I experience hot flashes?
Hot flashes last six months or less in about 50 percent of affected women. For others, it is not unusual for them to last much longer, with studies showing 10 percent to 25 percent of women in their early 60s still having hot flashes.
4. Do hot flashes mean I’m menopausal?
Not always. Estrogen withdrawal at any age can induce hot flashes. For example, teenagers with undeveloped ovaries who are given the estrogen they have not been producing will have hot flashes if the hormone is stopped. Hot flashes can be caused by many different triggers including food, medication, and stress. “Overheating” can also be a sign of hyperthyroidism. Only your doctor can determine exactly what is causing your hot flashes.
5. Are menopausal hot flashes dangerous?
Persistent hot flashes should be regarded as a warning signal from the body because, if untreated, they lead to hypertension and cardiac conditions.
6. What can I do to manage hot flashes?
If you begin experiencing hot flashes, there are several things to do and avoid in order to make them more manageable. Avoid triggers such as stress, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, tight clothing, hot temperatures, and smoking.
To manage the hot flashes you can’t avoid, try keeping your daily surroundings at a cool temperature (especially at night when you’re sleeping), wear light natural fiber clothing, use relaxing breathing techniques, and keep cold water close at hand to refresh yourself.
7. Can hot flashes be stopped?
There is no guarantee that you will be able to completely stop hot flashes, but there are several effective methods currently available. HRT (hormone replacement therapy) is the most effective way to stop hot flashes. Low-dose anti-depression drugs can offer relief but do come with medical risks. Speak with your doctor about the benefits and risks of these treatments before deciding on a plan.
8. Does every woman experience hot flashes?
Not every woman will experience hot flashes, and both the severity and frequency can vary for those who do. Some women experience a mild annoyance with them while others have hot flashes so severe that it can disrupt their day.
Menopause and Hot Flashes. WebMD. Retrieved November 23, 2015. http://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-hot-flashes
What Causes Hot Flashes? 11 Possible Conditions. Healthline. Retrieved November 23, 2015. http://www.healthline.com/symptom/hot-flashes
Menopause-Related Hot Flashes and Night Sweats Can Last For Years. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved November 24, 2015. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/menopause-related-hot-flashes-night-sweats-can-last-years-201502237745
Non-Menopausal Hot Flashes. What’s Your Cause? Healthline. Retrieved November 24, 2015. http://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/hot-flash-causes#Overview1
Reviewed November 24, 2015
By Philip Sarrel, M.D. and Lorna Sarrel, M.S.