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Hot flashes are characterized by sudden and intense warmth, sweating, a reddened face and rapid heartbeat. They can last from about 30 seconds to a few minutes and occur up to several times an hour—often over the course of a few years. While hot flashes tend to arise as women approach menopause, it’s important to rule out other potential causes that may need medical treatment.
Although we aren’t exactly sure why menopausal women experience hot flashes, we do know that as reproductive hormone levels decrease, the body may overreact to even slight temperature changes. Scientists think changes in the circulatory system may also play a role because the redness and heat associated with hot flashes occur when blood vessels near the skin expand.
About 70 percent of women experience hot flashes during menopause. Some women start getting hot flashes before the onset of menopause, even when they still have regular periods. Hot flashes are also more common among women who smoke, are obese, or are African American.
Most women begin menopause in their late 40s or early 50s. In addition to hot flashes, symptoms may include vaginal dryness, night sweats, and weight gain. Women who are going through menopause are also at an increased risk of osteoporosis due to a loss of bone density, which makes them more susceptible to broken bones. Some women also experience cardiovascular issues such as palpitations, dizziness, or changes in blood pressure.
Symptoms can begin during perimenopause (the transition into menopause) when periods become irregular. Once menstruation has ceased for 12 consecutive months, a woman has officially entered menopause.
Sometimes hot flashes are caused by a problem with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. This is often the explanation when this symptom affects men, pregnant women, and those who have not yet entered menopause. However, these conditions are rare. Examples of health concerns that may cause hot flashes include:
If you experience hot flashes, you might find that certain triggers contribute to your symptoms. These often include spicy food, alcohol, caffeine, stress, cigarette smoke, hot weather, and restrictive clothing. Keeping a journal of your symptoms can help you identify and avoid potential triggers.
If left untreated, hot flashes that disturb your sleep can lead to chronic exhaustion. Some women find relief with home remedies, such as:
If you are having hot flashes, call your doctor. He or she can determine whether menopause or another health issue is the underlying cause. This involves a thorough medical history and description of your symptoms, as well as hormone testing in some cases. Your doctor may recommend medications such as estrogen supplements, antidepressants, or antiseizure medications, all of which can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
“Hot Flashes.” Mayo Clinic.
“Hot Flashes Causes, Symptoms & Medication Treatment in Men and Women.” Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD. Medicine.Net.
“What Are Hot Flashes?” WebMD.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.