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Hot Flashes: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

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Are you experiencing sudden feelings of warmth or intense heat to your upper body or face? You might be experiencing what is known as a hot flash. Various medical conditions can cause hot flashes, but they are most often experienced by women going through menopause. Some hot flashes can be easily tolerated, while others can seem debilitating. Here’s more on the causes, symptoms and treatment of hot flashes.

What causes hot flashes?

Many women experience hot flashes before, during and after entering menopause. The average American woman enters menopause at age 51, but the hormone level shifts that trigger menopause can begin years earlier.

Perimenopause, also known as the menopause transition, typically starts in your 40s and can last anywhere from a few months to 10 years. Women experience erratic hormonal changes during this stage, and their estrogen levels begin to fall. This fall in estrogen levels can directly affect the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for controlling your body temperature, among many other things. While research still needs to be conducted to understand the exact reason, the drop in estrogen levels causes your hypothalamus to register that it is too hot, causing hot flashes.

While not all women who go through menopause will experience hot flashes, The North American Menopause Society reports that hot flashes are experienced by as many as 75% of perimenopausal women in the United States.

Symptoms of hot flashes

Symptoms of hot flashes vary among women but may include:

  • A sudden feeling of heat or warmth to your face, neck and chest
  • Flushed face and blotchy, red skin in affected areas
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tingling in your fingers
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Chills as the hot flash subsides

How long do hot flashes last?

Hot flashes can last anywhere from a few minutes to 10 minutes. The frequency of a hot flash can vary as well. Some women might only experience a few hot flashes a week, while others can experience them several times a day.

Hot flashes can happen at any part of the day, with some women experiencing them at night and getting what is called night sweats. This can often interrupt sleep patterns.

Most women report having hot flashes for seven to 10 years, but this can vary as well.

Are certain people more prone to hot flashes?

Not all women who enter menopause will experience hot flashes, but there are some increased risk factors for developing hot flashes, including

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Eating food that is spicy, high in fat or high in sugar
  • Being in hot temperatures
  • High-stress situations

Hot Flash Treatments

If you are experiencing hot flashes, there are a few quick relief tactics you can try out to see if it helps, including:

  • Wearing light, breathable layers. As you get hot, you can remove the other layers of clothing to help cool down
  • Drinking cold water
  • Placing an ice pack on your neck or head

If your menopause symptoms continue to bother you or you can’t find relief, it is best to talk with your doctor to discuss the best next steps and treatment options. Treatment options might include:

  • Hormone therapy with estrogen and possibly progesterone
  • Other medications, such as antidepressants and some anti-seizure drugs, might also help reduce hot flashes in different ways.

These additional medications all have some risks associated with their use, so you should discuss the best plan for managing your symptoms to improve your symptoms and overall well-being with your physician.

It is also important to incorporate healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, healthy eating habits and quitting smoking/avoiding secondhand smoke, which can all help to reduce the incidence and severity of hot flashes.

Learn more about OB/GYN Wendy Holden-Parker, MD.

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