The Low-down on Hot Flashes

Depending on where you are in the world, this symptom can be called a hot flash, hot flush or hot sweat. There isn’t even a translation in some regions of the world because it’s a less common symptom. Let’s get the low-down on hot flashes.

3 in 4 women suffer from hot flashes/night sweats, with hot flashes lasting on average 4 minutes, but if you have had one, I’m sure you will agree they feel like they last way longer!

They can last from 2 years to decades, with women in their 70s still experiencing them.

What is a Hot Flash?

A feeling of intense heat that is sudden and spreads across your body, face and chest and neck, you may also experience –

  • Heart Palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Flushing on your face and neck
  • Light-headedness/dizziness
  • Shaking and shivering

And Night sweats?

Also very common having you wake up in the middle of the night, literally drenched in sweat.

It’s not uncommon for women to have soaked through their night clothes and bedding; night sweats also contribute to sleep disturbance.

What’s the Cause?

Menopause is the leading cause of hot flashes. During this transition, levels of the hormone estrogen fall. 

This drop in Estrogen throws off your body’s “thermostat” — a gland called the hypothalamus at the base of your brain that regulates your internal temperature.

Lower Estrogen levels send a signal to the hypothalamus that you’re too hot. 

In response, your brain sends a message to your body to cool you off — just as it would if you were outside on a hot day or exercising at the gym.

This leads to – 

  • Blood vessels near the surface of your skin widen (dilate) to release heat. This creates the red flush you see on your skin.
  • Your heart pumps faster.
  • Your sweat glands open up. The sweat evaporates off your skin to cool down your body.

All these actions produce the rush of heat you feel during a hot flash.

Your body temperature can also rise several degrees during a hot flush. This rush of heat can make you feel very uncomfortable.

Certain things you do can even set off or worsen hot flashes, including:

  • drinking strong coffee or tea
  • eating spicy foods
  • feeling stressed or anxious
  • being outside on a hot day
  • running a fever
  • dressing too warmly

 

Vasomotor Symptoms (VMS)- The techy term for Hot Flushes

The SWAN study found in contrast to long-held beliefs that VMS last only a few years, frequent VMS persisted for an average of 7.4 years, with even longer durations for some women. 

Analyses examining individual trajectories of VMS over the Menopause Transition found four groups, with women falling into approximately equal proportions across these four groups. 

  • An early onset group of women had VMS early in the transition that continued after the full menopause but then declined. 
  • A later onset group had VMS peaking at full menopause and continuing, though declining, into their postmenopausal years. 
  • A third group had few or no VMS throughout the Menopause Transition.
  • A fourth group of women, called the “super flashers,” started VMS well before their full menopause that continued well into post-menopause. 

These findings provide insight into different patterns of VMS experienced by women.

SWAN’s diverse participant group also provided additional insight into racial/ethnic differences in VMS. 

  • Black women had the highest prevalence and longest duration of VMS and were most bothered by their VMS. Asian women had the lowest VMS prevalence, whereas 
  • Hispanic and White women fell between the Black and Asian groups. 

Women in lower socioeconomic positions were more likely to have VMS, independent of race/ethnicity. 

Several other demographic and psychological factors were associated with VMS. 

  • Less education 
  • smoking 
  • greater depressive symptoms
  • greater anxiety
  • more symptom sensitivity 

As you can see, many circumstances can affect hot flashes, from genetics & ethnicity to socioeconomic situations.

The impact of hot flushes on quality of life

  • Sleep disruption
  • Cognitive Function
  • Fatigue
  • Mood, depression & anxiety
  • Weight gain
  • Work

Let’s focus on a couple of these.

Sleep Disruption

Before a hot flash, a woman’s body temperature rises, and blood flow increases to the face, creating a heating sensation that wakes them up.

Hot flashes are incredibly energizing due to the increase in heat and adrenaline, which can then make it hard to fall back asleep. 

Even if a woman falls back asleep quickly, her sleep suffers due to frequent awakenings and discomfort, causing fatigue the following day. 

Of women with severe hot flashes, nearly 44 per cent meet the clinical criteria for chronic insomnia.

Cognitive Function

There is a significant negative correlation between a hot flush and recall and memory function immediately following it.

Hot flushes change the rate of blood flow through our temporal lobe, and the following cortisol release can damage brain structures such as the hippocampus.

Night sweats can also interfere with memory consolidation, most likely because of sleep interruption.

For women who have severe hot flashes that lead to diminished quality of life, there can be an increase in depression. 

What can we do?

  • Stress Less

The more stressed and anxious you feel about having a hot flash, the more likely you will have one. 

Taking time daily to Meditate and learning some breathwork techniques to calm you will really help

  • Reduce Alcohol & Sugar

Sorry guys, both of these can be triggers for hot flashes, and I’m betting some of you are using one or both for stress relief

  • Avoid stimulating foods and drinks

As mentioned above, some foods and drinks can trigger and make hot flashes worse, so 

  • Keep a diary

Always a helpful tool, make a note when you have a hot flash of possible triggers and situations from the period before; you may notice a pattern which means you can avoid them going forward

  • Use Holistic Therapies

There are many Essential Oils, such as Peppermint, that can help cool you or Clary Sage that can help balance hormone levels, that you may want to add to your Menopause toolkit – Also see Essential Oils for Menopause

  • HRT

Because reduced Estrogen is the leading cause of hot flashes during menopause, replacing your Estrogen is probably the most effective treatment for hot flashes. 

I hope you found this post helpful, but if you would like more, I have a handy Hot Flash Relief Cookbook you can grab Right Here to give away.

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