The Libido Doc will dive in answers to these questions: What can cause hot flashes? What happens to the body when it occurs? Hot flashes and night sweats are common symptoms of menopause. From hormonal imbalances to lifestyle triggers, we will uncover the reasons behind this common symptom.
What Can Cause Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes are experienced by many women and are typically associated with hormonal changes. The most common cause of hot flashes is hormonal fluctuations, especially a decrease in estrogen levels.
What is the Physiology of Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes are related to the body’s thermoregulatory process. Hormonal fluctuations, particularly decreases in estrogen, can disrupt this balance. Hot flashes occur when decreased estrogen levels cause your body’s thermostat (hypothalamus) to become more sensitive to slight changes in body temperature. The hypothalamus regulates body temperature.
The estrogen declines triggers instability, causing the hypothalamus to perceive an increase in body temperature. This leads to blood vessel dilation, increased blood flow, and sensations of heat and sweating. The body’s cooling mechanisms then respond, resulting in the characteristic heat of a hot flash.
Hormonal changes and hot flashes:
Menopause: The most well-known cause of hot flashes is menopause. During menopause, which typically occurs in women in their 50’s, there is a significant decline in estrogen production. This hormonal imbalance can lead to vasomotor instability, causing sudden feelings of heat, sweating, and flushing.
Perimenopause: This is the transitional phase leading up to menopause, usually starting in a woman’s late 40’s. During perimenopause, hormonal levels can fluctuate, and women may experience hot flashes as a result.
Hormone therapy: Certain medical treatments, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) used to manage menopausal symptoms, can sometimes cause hot flashes as the body adjusts to the hormonal changes.
Apart from hormones, what else can cause hot flashes?
Beyond hormonal changes, hot flashes can result from various factors. Hot flashes are most commonly associated with menopause, but can occur in other situations and affect both men and women.
Emotional stress and anxiety are known triggers of hot flashes in some individuals.
Certain medical conditions: Hot flashes can also be associated with medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, hyperthyroidism, certain types of tumors or certain cancers, and autoimmune diseases. In these cases, addressing the underlying health issue may help alleviate the hot flashes. Less commonly known conditions that might be associated with hot flashes also include infections or other diseases.
Medications: Some medications, such as certain antidepressants, can cause hot flashes as a side effect.
Common Causes and Triggers of hot flashes
Apart from going through menopause and the perimenopausal transition, there are some external factors that can trigger a hot flash. All of these triggers increase body temperature or activate the hypothalamus. This leads to blood vessel dilation and the feeling of heat and flushing. Triggers include:
- Spicy foods
- Feeling stressed or anxious
- Tight clothing
When should I be concerned about hot flashes? How many hot flashes per day is normal?
Hot flashes are typically short in time duration. Some pass after a few seconds. A long hot flash would be 10 minutes long. On average, hot flashes seem to last for up to 5 minutes.
Menopause is experienced differently by every woman. Some women barely have a hot flash or night sweat. For others, they have a few hot flashes per week. Other women have a few per hour. The frequency and intensity of hot flashes can seriously affect quality of life and possibly in a negative way.
If you find the frequency or intensity of your hot flashes disturbing or that they interfere with your life, then it’s time to get help. You can try a few steps on your own. We also encourage you to see your doctor, particularly if it is affecting you on a day-to-day basis.
Managing hot flashes: What can help to manage hot flashes?
Keep a journal: One really helpful step is to track and document your hot flashes. Keep a journal on paper or your phone of when they occur, what were you doing, did you just ate something, was it a stressful moment, what was the air temperature, etc. This way you can identify what your personal triggers for hot flashes are. This will help you tremendously to make changes and reduce the frequency and intensity of your hot flashes.
Once you understand your personal triggers, you can do something about it. Knowledge is Power.
Make some lifestyle changes:
Reduce or quit alcohol and caffeine. That may be a big ask for some people. But give it a try and see how your body reacts.
- Avoid spicy foods.
- Dress in loose layers so you can easily remove a layer to help cool down quickly.
- Find a cool place or stand in front of a fan. Try drinking cold ice water when a hot flash starts.
- Carry a portable fan to use when a hot flash strikes.
- If you are a smoker, quit smoking. This is not only for hot flashes, but for your overall health.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Women who are overweight or obese may experience more frequent and severe hot flashes.
- Try to reduce or manage your stress levels. Yoga, meditation, being out in nature and breathing techniques are a great place to start if you are stressed.
- Explore other mind-body practices. Early research shows that hypnotherapy and mindfulness meditation could help with hot flashes.
- Simply breathe through the hot flash and try to relax. You know it’s going to be short-lived so try to relax and wait it out.
- It goes without saying that following the basics of good health apply here too. Eat a whole foods healthy diet with plenty of vegetables. Be sure to get some exercise into your, ideally, daily schedule.
There are natural remedies that can help with hot flashes. Herbal supplements like black cohosh, red clover, evening primrose oil, and sage can help. 5HTP can be useful in some cases. Flaxseeds can help to balance hormones. Try adding 1 -2 Tbsp to your daily diet.
If these types of things don’t help, then a stronger approach is to try medical treatment. Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, is an option. This is a therapy where you take estrogen and progesterone, depending upon the individual case, to help raise these hormones which have dropped substantially with menopause.
Of course, if all else fails, go see your doctor. It is important to get medical help and guidance if hot flashes become disruptive or are of concern.
Hot flashes don’t have to disturb your life! There are things you can do to reduce the intensity and frequency of hot flashes. If you have tried everything, or if they are interfering with your activities, then we encourage you to consult with a healthcare professional. You should not be experiencing persistent or severe hot flashes without medical assistance. There is help to be found and understand what can cause hot flashes!
For more information go back to Menopause and Sex
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