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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

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What are hot flashes?

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. 

Is there more than one type of hot flash?

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.

What happens during a hot flash?

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. 

How common are hot flashes?

About 75% of women experience hot flashes during menopause. For 80% of women, hot flashes resolve within 2 years. 

How long do hot flashes last?

Each hot flash can last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Women usually experience hot flashes for several years after their last period.

Causes

What causes hot flashes?

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.

What hormones cause hot flashes?

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. 

What triggers hot flashes?

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:

  • Smoking
  • Feeling stressed
  • Anxiety
  • High temperature
  • Wearing thick clothing
  • Certain medications or treatments
  • Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, an overactive thyroid, and tuberculosis.

Which foods trigger hot flashes?

Certain foods and drinks can also trigger hot flashes, including:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol 
  • Spicy food

Symptoms

Hot flash symptoms

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. 

Can hot flashes cause me to sweat?

Some women do find that hot flashes can cause sweating.

Can hot flashes make me go red?

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.

Can hot flashes make me dizzy?

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.  

Diagnosis

How are hot flashes diagnosed?

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. 

Related Conditions

Hot flashes and menopause

Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause affecting about 3 in 4 women. Menopause usually occurs in your 40s or 50s, with the average age of menopause being 51 in the US. During menopause, hormone levels can vary considerably, producing hot flashes, but also more concerning conditions such as osteoporosis (weakening of the bones). Hormone replacement therapy can help to alleviate the symptoms of menopause and can also prevent osteoporosis.

Hot flashes after a hysterectomy or oophorectomy

A hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) and oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) often lead to early menopause. If your ovaries are removed, your hormone levels will change dramatically. Therefore, you can expect many of the symptoms of menopause to occur. Many women who have a hysterectomy or oophorectomy before menopause will take hormone replacement therapy to help alleviate this problem. 

Hot flashes and chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can induce medical menopause. This means that menopause begins due to medical treatment, rather than as a natural part of the aging process. With any type of menopause, hormone levels can change significantly, leading to hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. 

Treatment

How are hot flashes treated?

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. 

Can hot flashes be cured?

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.

What helps hot flashes?

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:

  • Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks
  • Stop smoking
  • Wear loose layers of clothing and breathable fabrics such as silk or cotton
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Cut down on spicy food

There are a number of other things you can do to reduce hot flashes:

  • Have a lukewarm bath or shower instead of a hot one
  • Cool the room, by opening windows or using a fan
  • Use sheets rather than a comforter on your bed
  • Have cold drinks
  • Use ice packs / cool packs to keep your temperature down if you feel a hot flash coming on.

Can I take medication to stop 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. 

Does weight loss help stop hot flashes?

Weight loss can help to reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. 

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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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