What Are Hot Flashes?

 

Hot flashes are the most frequent symptom of menopause and perimenopause. More than two-thirds of North American women who are heading into menopause have hot flashes. They also affect women who start menopause after chemotherapy or surgery to remove their ovaries.

What Is a Hot Flash?

A hot flash is a quick feeling of heat and sometimes a red, flushed face and sweating. The exact cause of hot flashes is not known, but they may be related to changes in circulation.

Hot flashes happen when the blood vessels near the skin's surface dilate to cool, making you break out in a sweat. Some women have a rapid heart rate or chills.

Hot flashes with sweating can also happen at night. These are called night sweats and may make it harder to sleep.

A hot flush is a hot flash plus redness in the face and neck.

How Long Will I Have Hot Flashes?

That depends. Some women have hot flashes for a very short time during menopause. Other women may have hot flashes for the rest of their lives. Generally, they get milder over time.

Can I Prevent Hot Flashes?

There’s nothing you can do to avoid hot flashes during menopause. But you can stay away from triggers that make hot flashes more frequent or more severe. Common ones include:

How Can I Manage My Hot Flashes?

Some women are able to wait out hot flashes with no treatments. If they bother you, these tips may help:

  • Stay cool. At night, a "chill pillow" filled with water or other cooling material might help. Use fans during the day. Wear lightweight clothes with natural fibers such as cotton.
  • Try deep, slow abdominal breathing (6 to 8 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.
  • See if botanicals and herbs bring relief. For instance, plant estrogens, found in soy products, may have weak estrogen-like effects that could cut hot flashes. Doctors recommend you get your soy from foods like tofu and edmame, not supplements. Some studies suggest black cohosh also may be helpful in the very short term (6 months or less). Botanicals and herbs may have side effects or interact with other medications, so ask your doctor first.

 

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What Treatments Are There?

You can talk to your doctor about taking hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, for a limited amount of time -- less than 5 years. This treatment prevents hot flashes in many women. Plus, it can help other symptoms of menopause, including vaginal dryness and mood disorders. When you stop taking HRT, the hot flashes may come back. Short-term HRT carries some risks, including blood clots and gallbladder inflammation. If HRT is not right for you, there are other treatments that may offer relief. It’s important to talk to your doctor before you take any new medication (including over-the-counter meds) or supplements.

Nonprescription treatments include:

Prescription treatments include:

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH on May 05, 2017

Sources

The Cleveland Clinic's Women's Health Center.

North American Menopause Society.

The National Institutes of Health.

Brisdelle.com.

The North American Menopause Society: “Should I treat my hot flashes or wait them out?”

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