Don't Sweat the Small Stuff: Your Questions about Hot Flashes Answered
One of the most common complaints that I hear about and have personally experienced with menopause/perimenopause is hot flashes.
They can happen day or night, randomly, inconveniently, mild or intense.
Hot flashes can come in waves of intense heat. A faster heartbeat, flushing, face neck, and arms reddening in color are also common. This can be worrisome and fearful for a woman. Worrying about how they look and if their hot flashes are noticeable to those around them.
We can experience poor interrupted disturbed sleep, lack sexual drive and satisfaction, and lose confidence in ourselves.
Importantly, hot flashes are temporary and transient. And although it most often occurs during menopause, it’s not the only cause of hot flashes.
Read on to learn more, and find out how to reduce hot flashes and get back your life.
Are Hot Flashes Normal?
Hot flashes are very common and considered a normal part of what a woman experiences during the menopausal transition.
What Causes Hot Flashes?
Menopause occurs because a woman’s estrogen levels change. Specifically, estrogen levels decrease. This causes rises in bodily temperature that the hypothalamus (part of your brain) becomes sensitive to. When we experience an increase in temperature, for any reason, our natural cooling system switches on and it is this system that triggers the hot flash.
How Do Hot Flashes Feel?
Hot flashes vary from woman to woman. For many hot flashes are experienced as unwelcome warm sensations that are annoying and bothersome.
However, up to 20% can experience intense hot flashes that are distressing. They can interfere with a woman's quality of life, which can be debilitating, and lead to a less active life.
Other sensations and symptoms include a faster heartbeat, which makes us feel as though we're anxious, sweating, reddening of the face, neck, and chest, and burning sensations across the chest.
Will Hot Flashes Raise Your Temperature?
Simply put yes. But don’t be alarmed it’s not the same as a rise in temperature due to illness or infection. It’s a very slight rise in core temperature. For example, 36.0 degrees to 36.3 degrees. Nonetheless, this slight change, because your hypothalamus is more sensitive due to lowered estrogen levels, can trigger a hot flash.
Do Hot Flashes Occur At Night?
Hot flashes at night are typically referred to as night sweats. When these happen sleep can become interrupted and broken. I’ve often found myself doing what I call the duvet foot dance. Meaning I keep moving my feet around, outside the covers trying to find a cold spot to reduce the heat my feet are exploding with.
Do Hot Flashes Ever Go Away?
I can understand why someone would ask this question because hot flashes can be so debilitating, and we can worry or fear they’re with us forever more. Hot flashes are temporary and typically short-lived sensations. In other words, they come and go. They’re not just a symptom of menopause. Hot flashes can happen because of illness or infection, because we’re stressed or over-tired, or because simply the weather is hot and we’re overdressed.
What Causes Hot Flashes Other Than Menopause?
There are a number of ways we can experience hot flashes that have nothing to do with menopause. For example, caffeine and alcohol. Both stimulate vasodilation, meaning they increase the diameter of blood vessels which allows heat to rise to the surface more quickly. Other triggers include smoking, eating spicy foods, and overheating due to wearing thick or layered clothing. Stress is another trigger for hot flashes. When we’re stressed the nervous system alerts certain biological changes which lead to physical changes such as hot flashes.
What Makes Hot Flashes Worse?
Hot flashes can worsen stress. Caffeine (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25051286/), alcohol, smoking, and eating spicy foods can intensify hot flashes. Blood vessels near the surface of the skin dilate (widen) — a reaction called vasodilation, in order to get rid of perceived heat, which it does through sweat.
This is not to say you can never have a spicy curry again. It simply means being aware that these things can intensify hot flashes so that you can manage the sensations better and avoid things where and when you can to reduce the hot flash.
What Helps With Hot Flashes?
Let’s get down to the good stuff – how can we prevent, reduce, limit, decrease, and eliminate hot flashes? There are a number of things we can do.
1. Reduce or avoid caffeine and alcohol.
2. Relaxation - Relaxation helps to calm down the body’s physical and emotional reactions. For example, diaphragmatic breathing. Regular practice can help to reduce the frequency and intensity. and duration of hot flashes.
3. Exercise - Exercise at a pace that causes increased heart rate and sweating has been shown to improve hot flashes by up to 60%.
4. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps us to change faulty thoughts and unhelpful behaviours. Changing the way we think helps us to develop a calmer more accepting view of menopause, and menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24149919/).
5. Hypnotherapy – Hypnotic relaxation therapy takes you into a state of deep relaxation. It is not a passive therapy, it’s something you learn to do and requires you to fully participate. During hypnotic relaxation therapy suggestions and cooling, imagery can help you manage your internal temperature control and reduce hot flashes, in some cases by up to 80% (Menopause. 2013 Mar; 20(3): 10.1097/GME.0b013e31826ce3ed).
6. Nutrition – certain vitamins have a good reputation for helping with hot flashes. Specifically, B6 can improve mood and increase energy by boosting serotonin (our happy hormone). B vitamins can also help with improving sleep and reducing hot flashes. Good food sources include salmon, chickpeas, tuna, chicken, fortified tofu, pork, sweet potatoes, bananas, potatoes, avocados, and pistachios. For B12, shellfish, tuna, fortified cereals, beef, fortified soy milk, fortified tofu, low-fat milk, cheese, and eggs.
Magnesium glycinate may also help with calming anxiety, easing joint pain, and improving sleep and hot flashes. Food sources include spinach, pumpkin seeds, black beans, tuna, soy milk, brown rice, nuts like almonds and cashews, avocado, edamame, non-fat yogurt, and bananas.
7. Medication such as an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) can be prescribed by your health practitioner which can help when you’re finding it difficult to cope with the onslaught of menopausal symptoms and sensations including hot flashes.