Side effects of hot flashes

Hot flashes are often accompanied by their own set of side-effects; we’re here to help you connect the dots and offer some advice on how to deal with them

Most (although not all) women will experience occasional or frequent bouts of hot flashes as they enter the menopause. The feeling is often described as an intense heat that appears as if out of nowhere, gushing through the face, neck and chest and causing uncomfortable symptoms like sweating, flushing, palpitations, and anxiety.

As awkward and embarrassing as hot flashes can be during the day, they can be downright debilitating at night; suddenly waking from your slumber to find yourself sprawled in a pool of sweat can make it near-enough impossible to get a good night’s rest.  Unfortunately, this exasperating experience is common for as many as 75% of women in the United States.

And as if dealing with this pesky side-effect of the menopause wasn’t enough, hot flashes are often accompanied by their own set of side-effects, making it all the more difficult for some women to catch a much-needed break during this burdensome time.

You may or may not be aware that some of these issues are linked to hot flashes. So if you’re having a hard time trying to figure out why you’re experiencing certain problems, we’re here to help you connect the dots and offer some advice on how to deal with this unfortunate chain of events.

 

Can hot flashes cause fainting?

Feeling light-headed and dizzy is common when enduring an episode of a hot flash, sometimes causing unconsciousness – and low blood pressure is the likely culprit for it. During a hot flash, your blood vessels dilate very quickly, which can cause a sudden drop in your blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as drain the blood from your brain. And because your brain doesn’t have enough blood flow to remain conscious, it stops sending signals to your muscles, causing you to lose consciousness and collapse.

You may also experience some or all of the following symptoms right before you faint:

  • Nausea
  • Blurred or tunnel vision
  • Pale colour
  • Weakness
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Headache
  • Shallow breathing

 

Can hot flashes cause weight loss?

Weight loss isn’t a side-effect that is typically associated with the menopause and hot flashes; on the contrary, many women often find that they gain weight during this period and have more trouble trying to shed it, as a result of reduced estrogen levels as well as age-related declines in metabolism and muscle tone.

Sometimes, weight loss that accompanies hot flashes can be linked with a more serious medical condition. So if you do experience any unexplained weight loss from your hot flashes (particularly if you’re also feeling generally unwell and fatigued), it is important that you speak with your doctor to either rule out this prospect or get appropriate treatment as early as possible.

 

Can hot flashes cause fever?

In short, a hot flash does not cause a fever. Fluctuating estrogen levels can cause the part of your brain that is responsible for controlling your body temperature to become fuddled, mistakenly leading it to think that the body is getting too hot.

During this process, the blood vessels are in a frenzy trying to get the blood to the surface so the body can cool down. So while it’s easy to assume that your body is overheating (after all, you are red-faced and sweating profusely) and you may be catching a fever, in actual fact your core temperature doesn’t rise at all; it’s the temperature of the skin that temporarily rises because of all the extra blood coming up.

Once the body manages to recover from the hot flash, it can slightly lower your core temperature, and in an effort to restore it back to normal, the body begins to generate heat, which causes chills, shivering, and chattering teeth.

Because a hot flash and a fever often share many of the same outward signs, use a thermometer to measure your body’s core temperature; if it is showing up as abnormally high, it’s a good indication that you’re experiencing a fever, rather than a hot flash.

 

Can hot flashes cause a rash?

During a hot flash, you may notice the skin on your face, neck and chest becoming flushed; as the skin’s temperature increases it can cause itchiness and irritation, leading to a rash. In addition, the lack of estrogen can cause your skin to become more sensitive than normal as it begins to naturally decline in natural oils and collagen, forming red bumps or hives, especially when you’re exposed to irritating substances like certain fabrics, dyes, or perfumes.

 

Are there any other side-effects of hot flashes I should know about?

  • Long-term sleep disruptions: Once they reach the menopause, many women can experience hot flashes for several years, which can wreak havoc on their sleep routine in the long-term. Being woken numerous times by night sweats may not reduce your total sleep time but it can certainly decrease your quality of sleep, causing tiredness and fatigue the following day.
  • Mood swings: Sleep disruptions resulting from hot flashes can also lead to irritability and mood swings, which can often be exacerbated by declining estrogen levels.
  • Increased risk of heart disease: Studies have shown that women who experience frequent hot flashes have double the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, blocked arteries, and stroke, as compared to women who do not get hot flashes.
  • Greater bone loss: Another study found that women that get frequent, moderate to severe hot flashes and night sweats have lower bone mineral density and have higher rates of bone fracture than women who are not prone to hot flashes.  
  • Decreased libido (sex drive): The intense and unpleasant heat brought on by hot flashes can make sexual intimacy off-putting; additionally, the fatigue from the persistent lack of quality sleep can mean less energy for sex.
  • Depression: Studies have identified a clear link between depression and hot flashes: depressed women are more likely to have hot flashes, and women that have hot flashes are more likely to suffer from depression. A combination of sleep disturbances, hormonal fluctuations, sexuality, infertility and general aging can all lead to depression.

 

What can I do to deal with the side-effects of hot flashes?

Although hot flashes aren’t curable and are an inevitable part of the aging process for many women, when it comes to managing the side-effects of hot flashes, all hope is not lost. The wide range of available treatments can be significant in seeking effective relief and essentially improve a woman’s quality of life.

  • Improve your diet: Avoid foods or drinks that can trigger a hot flash such as alcohol, spicy cuisines, and caffeine. Studies show that women that are overweight often experience more severe and frequent hot flashes than those that have a healthy weight; therefore, it is important to avoid fatty and processed foods and focus on increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water throughout the day (ideally 6-8 glasses) can regulate your body temperature and help keep hot flashes at bay.
  • Dress in layers: Dressing in layers during the day is a good way to prepare yourself for when a hot flash abruptly strikes; removing items of clothing when you feel yourself heating up can help keep you cool – you could also carry a portable fan as an added weapon to fight the flash.
  • Observe good sleep hygiene: Keeping your bedroom cool and dark can help stop you from getting up at night. Avoid exposure to bright lights from the phone, laptop, or TV screens an hour before bed, and drink a small amount of cold water just before you sleep. You could also try layering your bedding and adjust it as needed.
  • Try and quit smoking: Smoking can worsen menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, so try your best to quit not just to gain relief but also to improve your overall health.
  • Hormonal therapy: If lifestyle and diet changes simply aren’t cutting it, you could always try hormone replacement therapy to help steady the levels of estrogen in the body and relieve menopausal symptoms. However, it is worth noting that there are some health risks associated with this treatment option; so always speak with your doctor to weigh out the risks and benefits and never use this method for longer than needed.
  • Prescription drugs: Non-hormonal prescription drugs like antidepressants have proven effective in treating hot flashes, so they’re a viable option if you’re unable to use hormonal treatments or are worried about the risks that come with it.

 

References

  1. National Institute on Aging 2017, Hot Flashes: What can I do?, viewed 16th September 2020, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/hot-flashes-what-can-i-do
  2. NHS 2018, Hot Flushes – Menopause, viewed 16th September 2020, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/hot-flushes/
  3. Sleep Foundation 2020, How to Sleep Better During Menopause, viewed 16th September 2020, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-better-during-menopause
  4. The North American Menopause Society 2020, Hot Flashes, viewed 16th September 2020, https://www.menopause.org/for-women/sexual-health-menopause-online/causes-of-sexual-problems/hot-flashes

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