A hot flash (also called as hot flush) is characterized by a sudden feeling of warmth that seems to rush throughout the entire body, making you sweat profusely in a matter of seconds. Concentrating on the areas around the chest, neck and face, a hot flash would also cause the skin to redden and cause sudden chills as soon as it disappears.
Sometimes these hot flashes occur at night (they are aptly called night sweats) and can disrupt normal sleep patterns. So what exactly is this hot flush? And why (and when) does it occur in women? Intrigued? Well read on!
Considered to be one of the foremost symptoms of both menopause (and perimenopause), hot flushes usually occur in women who are nearing their menopausal stage which is characterized by the cessation of their menstrual cycles.
Hot Flashes and Why They Occur
In most cases, hot flashes would be attributed to the changing hormonal levels in a woman’s body as she nears menopause. Changes in blood circulation levels could also cause hot flushes during this period.
During menopause, the estrogen and progesterone levels in a woman’s body drop considerably. This sudden drop in the hormonal levels triggers the body to produce excess amounts of the gonadotropin hormone (GnRH) to balance fertility. The gonadotropin hormone is produced in the brain and is also responsible for controlling the heat sensors in the same. Excess amounts of the hormone would therefore trigger these sensors and the body would get appropriate signals from the brain.
The signals would cause a sudden sense of warmth to engulf the body. This would in turn cause the blood vessels present on the skin’s surface to dilate in order to cool off. This dilation is what causes the flushed look wherein the face, neck and chest turn a bright red color (as in the case of blushing). The dilation is usually accompanied by sweating to cool the body. During this period, the woman in question could potentially experience an increased heart rate as well. In some cases, the woman would also experience sudden chills as soon as the sweating recedes.
Duration of Hot Flashes
The duration of hot flashes and the frequency of occurrence would vary from woman to woman. While some women may experience hot flashes for a certain period of time before their menopause, others would tend to experience the condition for life.
Some women would experience hot flashes that would last only for a very short interval while others would have more pronounced sessions. Again, the severity of the issue would vary according to individual body conditions and constraints. However, in most cases the condition would become less severe over time, mainly because the body would get used to it.
General Symptoms of Hot Flashes
So how do you find out that whatever you are experiencing at the moment is a hot flash and not something else? Here are some symptoms to watch out for!
A hot flash would leave you sweating profusely as your body tries to cool down. And while the amount of perspiration would vary from woman to woman, it is noted that almost every other woman who experiences a hot flash would experience heavy sweating even in a well ventilated room.
Women who experience hot flashes frequently would literally crash out for about an hour or so after every session. The fatigue would be usually accompanied by body pain, and would be more pronounced in women who experience night sweats as well.
Sudden Chills, Nausea, and Dizziness
Almost every woman who experiences a hot flash would get sudden chills as and when her body starts perspiring. In certain cases, the sudden sensation of warmth can also make the woman feel dizzy, nauseous or suffocated.
Preventing Hot Flashes
Although every other woman would experience hot flashes during menopause, there are several ways one can reduce their intensity and frequency. And that list usually starts with a few items you need to avoid in case you experience hot flashes frequently.
Stay Away From ….
Accordingly, cutting down on factors like caffeine, alcohol, cigarette smoke, spicy foods, heat, tight clothes and unmanaged stress can help take care of hot flashes effectively. These factors are potential triggers of hot flashes and need to be controlled at all costs in order to avoid frequent or intense occurrences.
Make sure you keep your room well ventilated and cool 24/7. Stay away from small, congested spaces that can make you feel stressed out or suffocated. Avoid tight, layered clothing and opt for light layered clothes, preferably made of cotton.
Breathing and Relaxation Exercises
If the hot flashes that you experience are triggered by stress, then you can opt for deep breathing and relaxation exercises to reduce stress, and take care of the hot flashes in the process. Abdominal breathing exercises for 20 minutes every day (once in the morning and night) can reduce the intensity of the hot flashes. Training your mind and body to relax at the onset of a hot flash can also help reduce the symptom and after effects to great extents.
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Exercising regularly can also help you prevent intense and frequent hot flashes. Accordingly, you can opt for exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling or dancing etc., all of which are extremely effective choices to take care of hot flashes and their after effects.
Treatment of Menopausal Hot Flashes
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Some women opt for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to combat hot flashes and the other symptoms of menopause and perimenopause.
And even though the therapy would help take care of intense hot flashes, the chances of contracting serious side effects like gall bladder inflammation or blood clots are alarmingly high.
OTC and Prescribed Medications
Opting for either over the counter or prescribed medications to treat hot flashes would require you to check them with a qualified medical practitioner first.
Accordingly, some of the OTC medications you can take for hot flashes include Ibuprofen, Vitamin B and Vitamin E supplements. Some of the more commonly prescribed medications for hot flashes include neurontin (anti seizure drug), birth control pills, hormone supplements like Megace and Provera, blood pressure medications like Aldomet, Catapres, and Catapres-TTS and Paxil, Zoloft and Effexor (all three are anti depressant pills).
Herbal Remedies for Hot Flashes
Although there is not much evidence to substantiate their effectiveness in treating hot flashes, herbal remedies are sought after by many women to effectively tackle the condition. It is considered absolutely necessary to consult with a medical practitioner before opting for any of these herbal remedies owing to the potent side effects they may produce.
Accordingly, some of the more common herbal remedies for hot flashes in menopausal women include Black Cohosh, Soy products, flaxseed and Evening Primrose Oil etc. And while these remedies can help take care of hot flashes, they could produce unnecessary side effects like nausea, dizziness, diarrhea and gastrointestinal disorders.