Hot flashes are a common feature of menopause affecting 75-80% of menopausal women in the US.
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Reviewed by Dr Roy Kedem, MD
Information last reviewed 09/07/20
Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause. During a hot flash, you’ll feel warmth over your upper body - especially your face, neck, and chest. Hot flashes can cause redness of the skin and sweating in some people.
Each hot flash can last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Women usually experience hot flashes for several years after their last period.
About 75% of women experience hot flashes during menopause. For 80% of women, hot flashes resolve within 2 years.
During a hot flash, the blood vessels near the surface of your skin widen. This produces a sudden feeling of hotness over your upper body, particularly around your face, neck, and chest. You may also become flushed and sweaty. This process can result in significant heat loss, which can cause chills after the hot flash is over.
There is only one type of hot flash, but when a hot flash happens at night, it is referred to as a night sweat. So night sweats are just a different name for hot flashes at a different time of the day. Night sweats can usually wake you up from your sleep and are associated with excessive sweating. Night sweats should not occur in the absence of daytime hot flashes however, as they may be a sign of an underlying illness when they occur alone.
Hot flashes can have a number of different triggers, but they are commonly related to other factors that can cause flushing e.g. warm clothing and spicy foods. Here is a list of common hot flash triggers:
Certain foods and drinks can also trigger hot flashes, including:
Decreased estrogen levels associated with menopause affect your body’s ability to maintain a stable body temperature. A hot flash is actually your body trying to cool itself down. If your core temperature rises, your body will initiate mechanisms to help you cool down. You may produce more sweat, which will evaporate from your skin, producing a cooling effect. More commonly, your blood vessels will dilate (widen). This brings more blood to the surface of the skin, where it can lose heat into the surrounding air. This movement of blood causes you to feel hot, even though you’re actually losing body heat. During a hot flash, you lose a lot of body heat, which is why you can experience chills and shivering after a hot flash as your core temperature returns to normal.
Hot flashes are caused by a decrease in estrogen, which affects your body’s temperature regulation. A decrease in estrogen levels is a key feature of menopause.
Your heart rate can increase during a hot flash, which can cause dizziness in some people. Excessive warmth can also make some people feel lightheaded.
Hot flashes are caused by the blood vessels near your skin dilating. This can make your skin turn red temporarily, as blood nears the skin surface.
Some women do find that hot flashes can cause sweating.
Hot flashes are a sudden increase in heat affecting the upper body - especially the face, neck, and chest. They can last for a few seconds or several minutes and may only happen occasionally or several times a day. Some people experience redness and sweating as a consequence of their hot flashes.
Hot flashes are usually diagnosed from symptoms alone, in consultation with your doctor However, if there is any doubt, your doctor may give you a blood test to check your hormone levels and find out if you are going through menopause.
Weight loss can help to reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.
There are two medication options that can help you avoid hot flashes. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a popular option for many women, especially if they experience other menopausal effects such as osteoporosis. However, certain antidepressants such as Venlafaxine and Paroxetine have been found to help hot flashes specifically. This is a good option for women who do not need HRT and women who experience HRT side effects.
Medication can help relieve hot flashes, but you can also make lifestyle changes to reduce hot flashes. The main thing you can do is to avoid triggers:
There are a number of other things you can do to reduce hot flashes:
Most women grow out of hot flashes after a few years. There is no cure for hot flashes before that, but many women find that treatments such as Paroxetine, Venlafaxine or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) help to alleviate symptoms.
Hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause are often treated with hormone replacement therapy, but antidepressants such as Paroxetine and Venlafaxine target hot flashes specifically.
Hot flashes are a part of menopause. Menopause usually occurs during your 40s or 50s. In the US, the average age of menopause is 51 years old. You could expect to get hot flashes around this time. 80% of women report that their hot flashes resolve within 2 years.
Men can experience hot flashes, but the cause is different from hot flashes in women. During menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels dramatically decrease, whereas men do not naturally have such a significant change in hormone levels. However, hot flashes mainly occur in men who have had treatment for prostate cancer. Specifically, androgen deprivation therapy can lead to hot flashes in 70-80% of men who take it.
Most menopausal women (approximately 75%) do experience hot flashes, but not all. It is not clear why some women don’t get hot flashes, but there are certain factors, such as smoking, that can increase your risk of hot flashes.
Hot flashes usually stop happening a few years after your last period. Medications may help you avoid hot flashes earlier on, without having to wait for them to stop naturally.
Hot flashes can occur at night, although these are usually referred to as night sweats.
Why are hot flashes worse at night?
Some people report that their hot flashes are worse at night. This could be due to changes in hormone levels that occur as part of the sleep-wake cycle. Alternatively, hot flashes can seem worse if you are already in a warm bed under a thick comforter.
The number of hot flashes a woman experiences can vary greatly. Some women only experience hot flashes very occasionally, whereas some can experience several hot flashes a day. If hot flashes start to impact your quality of life, you may want to try medication to help you avoid them.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. You and your physician will determine if and how you should take any medication prescribed to you following a medical consultation.
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