What Are Vasomotor Symptoms?
Vasomotor symptoms, more commonly known as hot flashes and night sweats, are the most common symptoms of menopause. About 4 out of 5 people who go through menopause get vasomotor symptoms.
What Do Vasomotor Symptoms Feel Like?
A hot flash feels like a sudden flare of heat. You may feel it in your upper chest, face, and other parts of your body. You may start to sweat and your skin may get flushed or blotchy. Your heart rate may go up. You may feel anxious. Sometimes it can lead to heart palpitations and dizziness. After feeling hot, you may get a chilly feeling. Or instead of heat, you may only feel a chill.
Night sweats are hot flashes that happen at night. They may be combined with intense sweating and may disrupt your sleep. You might wake up very sweaty and need to change your clothes and sheets.
Every person is different, so your experience with vasomotor symptoms may be different from others’ experiences.
Your hot flashes may be mild or intense. You may have them every day, or just every now and then. They may be so mild that you barely even notice them or so intense that they get in the way of your daily activities.
What Causes Vasomotor Symptoms?
Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes hot flashes, but they think there’s a link between changing hormones and your core body temperature.
During menopause, your estrogen levels go down. This may affect how your body regulates its temperature. It may make your internal thermostat more sensitive to even small changes.
If your body senses that it’s too warm, it goes into overdrive trying to cool it off. Your blood vessels dilate, or enlarge. This dilation sends more blood to the surface of your skin to get rid of the heat. This is your body’s attempt to cool you down.
Who Gets Vasomotor Symptoms?
Not all people who go through menopause have vasomotor symptoms. But most – about 80% -- do. It isn’t clear why some people get these symptoms and others don’t. They’re more common among people who smoke, are obese, or are Black.
When Do Vasomotor Symptoms Start and End?
You may have hot flashes or night sweats at any point before, during, or after menopause. Hot flashes may come regularly or occasionally. Everyone’s different.
They often start at the beginning of menopause, or perimenopause. It’s common to have your first hot flash before you have your last period.
How long you’ll have them varies. For about 80% of people, it’s 2 years or less.
For about 18% of those who have them, the majority of hot flashes happen at the beginning of the transition to menopause. About 30% mostly have them later, after their cycles stop completely. Some have hot flashes that start early in menopause and keep going for years after it ends.
If your hot flashes are mild to start with, they may last for a longer period of time. It’s less common but possible that your hot flashes will be lifelong. Over time, they may become less intense.
What Can You Do About Vasomotor Symptoms?
You don’t have to just suffer through hot flashes and night sweats. There are many ways you can tamp down how frequent and intense they are.
Avoid triggers. Many things can trigger hot flashes. By avoiding triggers, you may be able to stop hot flashes from happening or make them less intense.
Stay cool. Keeping yourself cool, especially in hot weather, is key to finding relief. Stay inside when the weather is hot. Turn the thermostat down. Dress in light, breathable clothes -- light layers let you take something off when you’re too warm and put it back on if you feel cool again. Drinking cold drinks helps you regulate your body temperature and stay hydrated.
Try prescription medication. Your doctor can prescribe medication to treat your hot flashes. Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, is an effective way to treat them. Other medications, including antidepressants, are also effective at cutting down on hot flashes. Talk to your doctor about what may be best for you.
Make good lifestyle choices. Things like diet, exercise, and relaxation strategies may have an impact on how many hot flashes you have and how intense they are.
A diet built around vegetables and whole grains, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help control vasomotor symptoms. Certain foods, like soybeans, chickpeas, and lentils, may help offset hormonal changes. These foods contain estrogen-like compounds that can balance out the drop in hormones that happens at menopause.
If you’re overweight or have obesity, your vasomotor symptoms may be worse. Losing weight weight and staying at a healthy weight can help you manage them better.
Smoking is a trigger for vasomotor symptoms. People who smoke often have more frequent and more intense hot flashes. If you smoke, vape, or use other tobacco products, quitting may improve your symptoms.
Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation can help. Research shows that people with menopausal symptoms who try them tend to have fewer feelings of anxiety, depression, and irritability. These practices don’t ease the symptoms themselves, but they may help you feel more in control of the situation and better able to manage the symptoms you do have.
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Archives of Women’s Mental Health: “Understanding the pathophysiology of vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats) that occur in perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause life stages.”
Frontiers in Neurology: “Menopause and Brain Health: Hormonal Changes Are Only Part of the Story.”
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “What Can I Do to Help With Hot Flashes?”
Cleveland Clinic: “Hot Flashes,” "What to Eat When You Have Hot Flashes.”
Institute for Clinical and Economic Review: “Menopause: Vasomotor Symptoms.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Introduction to Menopause.”
Mayo Clinic: “Hot Flashes,” ”Mindfulness may ease menopausal symptoms.”
The North American Menopause Society: “Hot Flash FAQs: Triggers, Symptoms & Treatments.”