Hot Flashes: What are these, and What are the causes?

Hot flashes, one of the most common symptoms of menopause and perimenopause, is most commonly observed in menopausal women.  It starts right before the last period, and as any as 75% of women experience it.[1]

Women reaching menopause may suddenly notice the outbreak. However, hot flashes are also observed in women who have undergone chemotherapy and removal of ovaries.[2]

What is a hot flash?

Often referred to as the sudden outbreak of heat and sweating, the symptoms may vary a bit.[3]

Most women would see their entire face turning red. There will also be increased sweating. While the exact cause of the hot flash is yet unknown, circulatory problems may be a reason.

Hot flashes appear when the blood vessels on the skin surface widen and lead to breakage via the skin, paving the way to sweating. Apart from this, women also experience rapid heartbeats and chills. Often, this happens during the night and is referred to as night sweats.[4]

Night sweats are very uncomfortable, making it hard for you to get rest or even sleep. Sometimes, the breakout of hot flashes can also make your entire face and neck red.

Studies show that women may experience symptoms and intensity differently. For instance, it’s been seen that African American women in the U.S. often experience the most severe and persistent cases of hot flashes.

How long do hot flashes last?

Hot flashes may last from 30 seconds to a few seconds. Taking proper care of the symptoms to avoid hot flashes is important. During the menstrual transition phase, women tend to experience these hot flashes. As per reports, approx 70% of women would experience this in the menopausal period.[5]

Several studies have shown that several women experience hot flashes for a longer period. One of the studies from the University of Pennsylvania showed that hot flashes in women could last up to 4.9 years.

What causes hot flashes?

The complex hormonal changes are responsible for hot flashes in women. With age, the estrogen levels in a woman’s body begin to drop. This may be one of the most prominent underlying causes of hot flashes.[6]

Thermoregulation also leads to heat sensation in the body, which is yet unknown. Not only women but men too are likely to get hot flashes due to thermoregulation.

Symptoms of hot flashes

By now, you are already aware of the duration of hot flashes. Some of the noticeable symptoms of hot flashes include

  • Reddening of the skin
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Night sweats
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Heart palpitations

Depending on the menopausal period, the cause and duration of hot flashes will eventually vary in women. Some of the facts to know about hot flashes include

Not every woman in their menopausal period would experience hot flashes. Some women, years before their menopausal phase, will experience hot flashes.[7]

When and how a woman will experience hot flashes is something impossible to predict.

During the menopausal transition period, 40-85% of women will experience hot flashes.

Diagnosis of hot flashes

One important thing to know about hot flashes is that these are just symptoms and not any medical condition.[8]

Before determining any treatment, the doctor will prefer taking a look at medical history. The doctor can also conduct a verbal test to know how often these occur, or from when they are happening.

Doctors can also prescribe physical examinations such as blood tests to determine hormone levels. They can also:

  • Look for other symptoms to check the signs of other infections.
  • See if there is a threat to an underlying infection.

How to prevent hot flashes?

Honestly, there is no complete process through which you can avoid menopause. That being said, you can adopt measures to keep away the triggers.[9]

Since hot flashes can occur anytime, it is necessary to avoid the triggers to prevent the hot flashes from becoming severe. Some of the common triggers to avoid to prevent hot flashes include the following.

  • Alcohol
  • Heat
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Spicy food
  • Tight clothes

Treatment

Hot flashes disappear without any treatment in some women. But, others might need to wait and take proper treatment.[10]

It is better to reach out to a doctor and start hormone therapy if hot flashes occur a lot. This is usually suggested if you have been experiencing hot flashes for more than five years. However, hot flashes may be accompanied by other symptoms such as vaginal dryness and mood disorders.

Women who start hormone therapy may suffer from hot flashes when the therapy is stopped. Often short-term hormone therapy can give way to different problems such as breast and endometrial cancer, blood clot, and even gallbladder inflammation.[11]

Hormone therapy doesn’t suit everyone. You may prefer other treatments such as

  • Anti-seizure drugs as Gabapentin
  • Low-dosage depression drugs such as paroxetine, venlafaxine, and fluoxetine
  • Brisdelle
  • Duavee.

Supplements such as vitamin B complex, vitamin E, and ibuprofen can help boost overall health.

However, before starting any treatment, you need to consult a doctor. New medicines and supplements may have counter-effects, which is why it is necessary to consult a doctor.[12]

You may consult a gynecologist to find the best way to treat hot flashes. Although you cannot completely avoid it, you may prefer taking steps to avoid the triggers. Make sure to follow a healthy diet for the best impact.


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539827/

[2] Rapkin AJ. Vasomotor symptoms in menopause: physiologic condition and central nervous system approaches to treatment. Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 2007 Feb;196(2):97-106. [PubMed]

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4612529/

[4] Politi MC, Schleinitz MD, Col NF. Revisiting the duration of vasomotor symptoms of menopause: a meta-analysis. J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Sep;23(9):1507-13. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6459071/

[6] Freedman RR. Physiology of hot flashes. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 2001 Jul-Aug;13(4):453-64. [PubMed]

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3233302/

[8] Nelson HD. Menopause. Lancet. 2008 Mar 01;371(9614):760-70. [PubMed]

[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15852197/

[10] Boothby LA, Doering PL, Kipersztok S. Bioidentical hormone therapy: a review. Menopause. 2004 May-Jun;11(3):356-67. [PubMed]

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2765999/

[12] Manson JE, Kaunitz AM. Menopause Management–Getting Clinical Care Back on Track. N. Engl. J. Med. 2016 Mar 03;374(9):803-6. [PubMed]

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