Hot flashes are among the most common symptoms of the first stage of menopause.
A hot flash is the sudden sensation of heat in the face, neck and chest—and occasionally throughout the rest of the body—caused by a sudden enlargement of blood vessels near the surface of the skin. Hot flashes can be very mild (feeling a little warmth in the face) or very severe (becoming red in the face and sweating excessively). The most severe hot flashes may include symptoms similar to a panic attack, including dizziness, fear of loss of control, rapid heartbeat, sweating and trembling. Some women will experience a cold chill after a hot flash, while a few women report feeling only the chill. Some women with severe hot flashes also report experiencing a headache after other hot flash symptoms subside.
Following are some ways to help you ease hot flashes.
Get plenty of sleep. If hot flashes are keeping you up at night:
If you smoke, quit. Smoking interferes with circulation and inhibits the body’s ability to warm and cool itself. Women who smoke are more likely to get hot flashes.
Reduce or eliminate stress. Strategies include:
Maintain a healthy weight. Fat adds insulation, making it harder for your body to adjust to temperature swings. Every woman’s body is different, but for some, losing even as little as 5 pounds can help reduce the frequency and duration of hot flashes.
There are many effective medications for hot flashes, including:
You may be more likely to experience severe hot flashes if you are:
Hot flashes are caused by changing levels of estrogen and, to a lesser extent, progesterone. These fluctuations affect the hypothalamus—the part of the brain responsible for regulating body temperature, appetite, sex hormones and sleep.
Most hot flashes last 30 seconds to five minutes. Severe hot flashes can last up to 15 minutes.
On their own, hot flashes are not damaging—they are just instances of the body’s natural response to an increase in internal temperature. However, hot flashes may impact relationships, work, sleep and even cognition. Some research indicates that women with severe hot flashes may be at higher risk for heart disease and bone density loss than women without hot flashes.
Most women experience hot flashes for two and seven years. About 10% of women may have hot flashes for 10 to 15 years. Typically, the earlier women start having hot flashes, the longer they last.
No. Up to 25% of women report having no hot flashes or such mild hot flashes that the symptoms are hardly noticeable.