Have you experienced a mild feeling of warmth or an intense wave of heat that makes you feel like your skin is on fire? Do you wake up at night drenched in sweat? These are hot flashes. Do not panic, you are not alone! Nearly 8 in 10 women experience hot flashes or night sweats during their menopause.
Menopause is the natural biological process that marks the end of reproductive years. The female reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone decrease during this phase, which triggers different responses in the body. Most women experience a range of symptoms from mood swings to hot flashes.
Hot flashes and night sweats are the most annoying symptoms that a woman might experience on her menopausal journey. Research suggests that about 80% of women going through menopause experience hot flashes. These sudden bursts can cause fatigue, irritability and even forgetfulness. Ten to 15% of women experience severe hot flash that affect their day-to-day activities.
So, how do you deal with hot flashes? Here is some information about hot flashes and steps you can take to minimize their effects.
What is a hot flash?
Hot flashes are momentary episodes of intense heat in the upper body, which is most intense over the face, neck and chest. Although some medical conditions can cause them, hot flashes are commonly triggered around menopause in women. When they occur at night they are called “night sweats”, which can cause significant sleep disturbances.
Most hot flashes last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. These hot flashes fade away after six to 24 months post menopause. But for some women, it may last longer— up to 11 years. Hot flashes can occur occasionally, or they can recur regularly.
What does a hot flash feel like?
Even though, 80% of women experience hot flash, the frequency and severity of hot flashes varies greatly from woman to woman. In general, during a hot flash you may feel that heat radiates throughout your body.
Other symptoms of a hot flash can include:
- rapid or uneven heartbeat
- flushed appearance with red blotches on skin
- heavy sweating especially in the upper body
- chilled feeling
- anxious feeling
What causes hot flashes?
The exact cause of hot flashes is still unknown. Although hot flashes typically occur in women who are approaching menopause, but it can rarely occur in other women as well. Hot flashes are commonly caused by the sudden changes in hormone levels – especially estrogen during menopause. Decreased estrogen levels have a direct influence on the hypothalamus, a part of brain that regulates our body temperature, sleep cycles, appetites, etc.
Sudden drop in estrogen level will confuse the hypothalamus, making it sense that your body is too warm. Thus the brain will respond by dilating the blood vessels to circulate more blood and the sweat glands will release sweat to radiate off the heat and to cool your body. This series of events can make you soaking wet and extremely uncomfortable.
In addition to hormonal changes, there are some other factors that may increase your risk of hot flashes. It includes:
- eating spicy foods
- high intake of caffeine and alcohol
- wearing tight clothes
- being in a warm room
- feeling stressed or anxious
- treatment for certain types of cancer
- some health conditions, such as an overactive thyroid, diabetes and tuberculosis.
How can you control hot flashes?
Hot flashes have a lot to do with the changing levels of hormones in your body. Certain other factors can also increase the risk of hot flashes. Being aware and addressing these factors can help you beat hot flashes effectively. Luckily, there are several ways to deal with it. These methods range from basic lifestyle changes to medications to treat the underlying cause of the symptoms.
Lifestyle changesManaging certain risk factors may reduce the risk of developing hot flashes. Certain lifestyle changes will help you manage the condition effectively.
Lifestyle changes for dealing with hot flashes include:
- Use natural fibers instead of synthetic materials
- Dress in layers so that you can remove layers to help cool yourself down
- Avoid spicy foods
- Limit alcohol and caffeine
- Quit smoking
- Keep the room cool
- Avoid hot and crowded area
- Avoid high fat and high sugar foods
- Practice stress reduction techniques, such as yoga and meditation.
If lifestyle changes do not help to manage the symptoms and prevent hot flashes, you should seek medical help. Based on the diagnosis, doctor may prescribe certain medications to treat the underlying cause of the symptoms.
Prescription medications for hot flashes and sweats include:
- certain antidepressants
- a drug called gabapentin (which is sometimes used to treat chronic pain)
- a blood pressure medication called clonidine
Studies showed that prescription medications have been shown to reduce hot flashes and night sweats around 40-60 per cent.
Menopausal hormone therapy is the most effective treatment for hot flashes. As most of the menopausal symptoms including hot flashes are caused due to the low hormone levels, the therapy replaces the hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. It reduces hot flashes and night sweats by around 80%. It also offers relief from other menopausal symptoms like osteoporosis, vaginal dryness, etc. However, this approach does carry some health risks, especially in the later years of menopause. These may include the risk of blood clots, stroke, heart disease and breast cancer.
Certain natural or alternative remedies are also used to manage hot flashes. Below are some foods and herbs that are used as menopause remedies can help reduce hot flashes:
- Soy foods: Soy foods contain large quantities of phytoestrogens, chemicals that act like estrogen in the body. This can help reduce hot flashes. Good sources of soy foods are soy milk, tofu and tempeh.
- Black cohosh: This root is one of the most popular herbal remedies for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Although the exact mechanism of black cohosh is unknown, researchers believe that it binds to estrogen receptor to produce the action.
Once your body begins to undergo menopausal changes, hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms are unavoidable. But with certain lifestyle choices you can manage them with minimal disruption to your life. Discuss your concerns with your doctor, especially if you are taking any medications.
- Hot Flashes. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/sexual-health-menopause-online/causes-of-sexual-problems/hot-flashes . Accessed on: 24-09-2020.
- Hot flushes. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/hot-flushes/ . Accessed on: 24-09-2020.
- Menopause-related hot flashes and night sweats can last for years. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/menopause-related-hot-flashes-night-sweats-can-last-years-201502237745. Accessed on: 24-09-2020.
- Hot flashes: what you need to know. https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/womens-health/hot-flashes-what-you-need-to-know . Accessed on: 24-09-2020.
- Hot flashes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hot-flashes/ . Accessed on: 24-09-2020.
- Managing Hot Flashes and Sweating. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/hot-flashes-sweating/managing-hot-flashes-sweating.html . Accessed on: 24-09-2020.
- Menopause: Non-Hormonal Treatment & Relief for Hot Flashes. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15223-menopause-non-hormonal-treatment–relief-for-hot-flashes . Accessed on: 24-09-2020.
- Hot flushes and night sweats. https://www.thewomens.org.au/health-information/menopause-information/managing-menopause . Accessed on: 24-09-2020.