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Menopause and Sweating

By Marie Suszynski
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Intense heat starts in your chest and rises to your neck and head. Beads of sweat grow until perspiration run down your face. It’s a hot flash due to menopause, and it’s a loooong five minutes until it passes.

Multiply that by 20 or 30 and you can call it a day.

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When she was 26, Lara Dietz learned she had breast cancer -- a shock to this mother of two very young children. Then came the second blow. When treatment began, so did premature menopause. "I was having hot flashes," she says. "I felt like I was 55 years old." When menopause occurs between ages 45 to 55, it is considered "natural." When it occurs before age 40 -- regardless the cause -- it is called premature menopause. The ovaries no longer produce an egg each month, so monthly menstrual cycles...

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Doctors theorize that hot flashes and night sweats happen as a result of changing estrogen levels. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to beat the heat and excessive sweating of menopause.

Will I Have Hot Flashes As I Approach Menopause?

Hot flashes are one of the most common signs of perimenopause, the years leading up to menopause. Menopause, when your period stops for good, typically happens between age 45 and 55.

Some women experience the heat and flushing of hot flashes without sweating, while others sweat so much they need a change of clothes. When hot flashes happen at night, leaving you and your sheets drenched, they’re called night sweats.

For about 75% of women, hot flashes and night sweats are a fact of life during perimenopause and menopause. A lucky minority won’t experience them at all. Some women will experience only mild hot flashes.

But for 25% - 30% of women, hot flashes and night sweats will be severe enough to interfere with quality of life, says Valerie Omicioli, MD, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science and a certified menopause practitioner at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

A single hot flash can last anywhere from one to five minutes and may occur a few times a week for some women or daily for others. When hot flashes are severe, they may strike four or five times an hour or 20 to 30 times a day, Omicioli says.

What Causes Hot Flashes and Sweating During Menopause?

Ellen Sarver Dolgen, Coronado, Calif.-based author of Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness, found her life thrown upside down when perimenopause began in her late 40s. Her first hot flash happened while she was in a business meeting with all men.

“I felt a flush of heat come over me but I didn’t want to pay much attention to it,” she told WebMD. But when she stood up she felt sweat dripping down the inseam of her pants. “Thank goodness I carry a big purse because I think it makes my hips look smaller,” she says. She used her purse to hide the wet mark on her pants as she left the meeting. “It was absolutely mortifying.”

Doctors think hot flashes and night sweats are a result of fluctuating or decreasing estrogen levels. When menstrual cycles finally stop, estrogen levels drop fairly dramatically, Omicioli says.

The drop may impact a part of the brain that regulates body temperature. We all have a thermal neutral zone, which means our body temperature stays stable even when the temperature around us changes slightly. Theoretically, a drop in estrogen levels may narrow the thermal neutral zone, so that small changes in outside temperature cause a rise in body heat.

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