Hot flashes are the most frequent symptoms of menopause and perimenopause. Hot flashes occur in more than two-thirds of North American women during perimenopause and almost all women with induced menopause or premature menopause.
A hot flash -- sometimes called a hot flush -- is a momentary sensation of heat that may be accompanied by a red, flushed face and sweating. The cause of hot flashes is not known, but may be related to changes in circulation.
Hot flashes occur when the blood vessels near the skin's surface dilate to cool. This produces the red, flushed look to the face. A woman may also perspire to cool down the body. In addition, some women experience a rapid heart rate or chills.
Hot flashes accompanied with sweating can also occur at night. These are called night sweats and may interfere with sleep.
A hot flush is a hot flash plus a visual appearance of redness in the face and neck.
How Long Will I Have Hot Flashes?
The severity and duration of hot flashes varies among women going through menopause. Some women have hot flashes for a very short time during menopause. Other women may have hot flashes -- at least to some degree -- for life. Generally, hot flashes are less severe as time passes.
Can I Prevent Hot Flashes?
While it may be impossible to completely avoid hot flashes during menopause, there are certain triggers that may bring them on more frequently or cause them to be more severe. To prevent hot flashes, avoid these triggers:
Other things you can do to keep hot flashes at bay include:
Stay cool. Keep your bedroom cool at night. Use fans during the day. Wear light layers of clothes with natural fibers such as cotton.
Try deep, slow abdominal breathing (six to eight breaths per minute). Practice deep breathing for 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the evening and at the onset of hot flashes.
Exercise daily. Walking, swimming, dancing, and bicycling are all good choices.
Chill pillows; cooler pillows to lay head on at night might be helpful.
Talk to your doctor about taking short-term (less than five years) hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. This treatment prevents hot flashes in many women. In addition, it can help other symptoms of menopause, including vaginal dryness and mood disorders. However, even short-term hormone therapy carries some risks, including blood clots and gallbladder inflammation. If HRT is not right for you, there are other treatments that may offer relief. These include both over-the-counter and prescription therapies you may recognize for their more common medical uses. It is important to clear any new drugs (including over-the-counter) or supplements with your doctor before taking.
Nonprescription treatments include:
Vitamin B complex
Prescription treatments include:
low-dose depression drugs fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), or venlafaxine (Effexor)
clonidine, blood pressure medication
gabapentin, anti-seizure drug
Brisdelle, a paroxetine formula specifically for hot flashes
Duavee, a conjugated estrogens/bazedoxifene formula designed to treat hot flashes