A hot flash is a sudden sensation of intense warmth in the upper parts of body, especially in the chest, face and neck regions. This is usually characterized by reddening of the skin as if you are blushing accompanied by sweating. If the sweating due to hot flash only happens during the night hours, it is termed as night sweats.
A hot flash chiefly lasts for 30 seconds to a few minutes and is mostly noticed in women prior to, and during the early stages of the menopausal transition (i.e., the time when there are irregularities in the menstrual period leading up to total stoppage of periods).
While not all women experience hot flashes, many normally menstruating women begin experiencing the sudden warm feeling even several years prior to the cessation of their menstrual periods. And close to 40% - 85% of women experience hot flashes at some point in their menopausal transition.
The root cause of hot flashes is due to complex hormonal changes that tailgate the normal ageing process in which particularly the estrogen levels decline. This decline in the estrogen levels stimulate the body’s thermostat system, situated in the hypothalamus to become more sensitive to even slight temperature variations. When the hypothalamus detects that the body is too warm, it triggers a chain of events including hot flashes and night sweats to cool you down.
In most cases, these hot flashes occur prior to or during menopause but in some cases, it can also occur due to other underlying health anomalies. These include:
- Medical condition like diabetes
- Certain birth control medications
- Eating disorder
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Spicy foods
- Hot beverages
- Being in a warm room
- Wearing tight-fitted clothes
- Anxiety and stress
- Overactive or underactive thyroid gland
- Lesions in the spine
- Certain pain-relieving medications
- Certain medications to treat osteoporosis or breast cancer
Factors that increase the risk of hot flashes during menopause include:
Ethnicity: Statistical data and reports suggest that black women are more prone to having hot flashes during menopause than Asian women.
Obesity: Getting diagnosed with obesity increases the risk of hot flashes.
Smoking: Unhealthy lifestyle habits like consumption of tobacco in any form aggravates the chances of hot flashes.
The common signs and symptoms that one experiences while having an episode of hot flash include:
- A sudden feeling of warmth spreading through your chest, neck and face
- Redness of the skin known as flushing
- Racing heartbeat
- Excessive perspiration, mostly on the upper part of the body
- A chilled feeling as the hot flash lets up
- Feelings of anxiety
If the condition is not addressed on time, it can interfere in a person’s daily activities and quality of life. Hot flashes happening during night time commonly leads to night sweats and can even wake one from sleep and, eventually, this can cause long-term sleep disruptions.
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing the above-mentioned symptoms, do consult a doctor. The doctor usually does a thorough physical checkup by asking the patient to describe the hot flash and how often it happens or lasts, and acknowledges the person’s past medical history. The doctor may also conduct a blood test to determine the change in hormonal levels or to analyze any signs of some other health condition or infection.
The available treatments for hot flashes include the underlying reason and the severity of the condition. There are a variety of procedures that can be conducted to treat and manage hot flashes. These include:
- Hormone therapy
- Bioidentical hormone therapy
- Nerve block procedure
- Treatment with antidepressants
- Other drug treatments
- Complementary and alternative treatments using phytoestrogens or black cohosh