Hot flashes are common in women who are going through menopause. A hot flash refers to the feeling of heat or warmth that is not a result of external factors. Under normal circumstances, your body gets warmer if you do a vigorous workout or survive in hot temperatures. Your body releases excessive heat in the form of sweat to cool down its core temperature. However, in the case of a hot flash, internal factors are responsible for changing body temperature. Once a hot flash is over, you may have sweating or chills for some time. Treatment options are available for severe cases of hot flashes.
The exact causative mechanism of hot flashes is yet to be understood. It is thought that hot flashes experienced during menopause result from changing estrogen levels. As a female approaches menopause, her estrogen level starts to decline. This leads to multiple changes in her body, including hot flashes and sudden night sweats. Some females may experience hot flashes a few times a week, while it may be more frequent in others. The duration of hot flashes can also vary in different females, ranging from a few seconds to 10 minutes.
It is thought that a low estrogen level causes your hypothalamus to become more sensitive to temperature changes. So, if your body senses a warm internal temperature, it will immediately try to cool it down by triggering a hot flash. In this way, excessive body heat is released. Other factors such as diabetes, obesity, and certain medication may also play a role in the occurrence of hot flashes.
Since the exact cause of hot flashes is unknown, it is difficult to state which group of women may be at a higher risk. However, a few factors may increase the incidence of hot flashes. According to research studies, women with a higher BMI tend to get more frequent hot flashes than women with a normal BMI index. The effect of smoking has also been noticed. Smokers have a higher tendency to experience hot flashes during menopause.
Hot flashes can occur in any woman, sometimes even before menopause. The average age of women who experience hot flashes ranges from 35 to 45 years. It has also been reported that black women experience hot flashes more often than other races.
Signs and symptoms of a hot flash may vary for different women. Some women experience a feeling of intense warmth that lasts only for a few seconds, while it may last as long as 10 minutes in others. Your face and neck become reddish as if you are flushed. Some females also experience a tingling sensation in their fingers. Heart rate goes up, and increased sweating is noticed, even if you are not doing any physical activity. When hot flashes occur frequently at night, they are termed night sweats. This condition can also affect the duration and quality of your sleep. Some women suffer from it daily, while others may only experience it a few times a month. The symptoms of hot flashes can persist from 5 to 7 years on average.
Hot flashes are usually diagnosed on the basis of history. Your doctor may ask questions about your menstrual cycle, the onset, duration, and frequency of your symptoms, past medical history, etc. No diagnostic tests are required because they are not a major problem for most females and are part of a natural cycle. However, if your doctor suspects another underlying medical condition is causing increased body temperature or night sweats, they may run a few diagnostic tests to figure out a possible cause.
Hot flashes should be differentiated from other medical conditions that increase body temperature and sweating. These may include multiple infections, sleep apnea, nocturnal angina, hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, stress or anxiety, panic attack, alcohol or drug abuse, certain medications, etc. History of menstrual cycle and presenting symptoms can help distinguish hot flashes from other conditions.
Treatment for hot flashes differs based on the severity of your symptoms. Many women are not bothered by it and do not look for treatment options. Some women adopt home remedies or herbal techniques to reduce the severity of hot flashes. These may include wearing light clothing, wearing clothes that allow air to pass through, sipping cold water, using cotton bed sheets, keeping an ice pack, using evening primrose oil, etc. These techniques may be effective in some and not effective in others.
If you experience frequent hot flashes that have disturbed the quality of your life, it is best to consult with a medical health expert. The best solution for this condition is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It should only be done under the guidance of a trusted doctor. In this case, estrogen supplements are given to stabilize the level of this hormone in your body. When the normal estrogen level is restored, the symptoms associated with menopause may also decline. However, the risks of this therapy should also be discussed before treatment.
Certain antidepressants such as fluoxetine, venlafaxine, paroxetine, etc., and anti-seizure drugs such as gabapentin, pregabalin, etc., have been seen to relieve hot flashes. Consult your doctor about your symptoms before taking any medications.
On average, hot flashes can persist from 5 to 7 years in females going through menopause. It can be managed to a certain extent by home remedies, hormone replacement therapy, or medications.
There is no particular way to prevent hot flashes. Hot flashes can be somewhat reduced by taking a proper diet, exercising regularly, managing your health, and avoiding smoking. Maintaining good health before and during menopause can help to deal with its symptoms in a better way.
Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on May 02, 2023.