A Guide Through The Causes And Treatments of Hot Flashes

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What are hot flashes?

A common symptom of the menopausal transition, hot flashes are sudden sensations of heat in the upper body. It is felt by women in their late 40s. Hot flashes are also known as night sweats because it mostly happens at night. Hot flashes generally begin around the head and the neck region and result in sweating all across the body.

In case of hot flashes, the skin might redden as if you are having rashes all across your body. Night sweats may also disrupt your sleep. About 40-85 per cent of women experience hot flash at some point during or after their menopausal transition.

How long does a hot flash last?

Typically, hot flashes are brief and last for about 30 seconds to a few minutes. However, the earlier a woman begins having hot flashes, the longer does she suffer from it. A study from the University of Pennsylvania has surveyed that the mean duration of hot flashes in women is around 4.9 years, but some women may suffer from it as long as 10 years.

Another research has found out that Hispanic and American women suffer from hot flashes for more years than European or Asian women. The Study of Women Across the Nation (SWAN) has found out that women tend to have hot flashes for an average of 7.4 years and an average of 4.5 years after the last menstrual cycle.

What causes hot flashes?

The declining levels of oestrogen and the complex hormonal changes that women go through as they age and approach menopause, are considered the underlying causes of hot flashes. 

Any disruption in thermoregulation (methods that the body use to control and regulate body temperature) may also cause hot flashes and the warmth sensation. 

However, not all women who approach menopause have hot flashes. Certain factors increase the chances of hot flashes, like, smoking, obesity and racing. Hot flashes cause disruption is daily activities and the quality of life. It also affects sleep schedules and over time, if not checked, may cause long-term sleep disruptions.

Hot flashes: Symptoms and Signs

  • Hot flashes occur for a brief period of time, typically around 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  • A sudden feeling of warmth spreading across the neck, chest and face.
  • Flushed out skin, or, redness of the skin may be seen accompanying the hot flashes.
  • Excessive sweating or, perspiration, is another common symptom of night sweats.
  • Sudden pangs of anxiety generally accompany these hot flashes.
  • Occasional palpitations or, an abrupt increase in heartbeat, may also occur. 
  • Once the hot flash lets up, a chilled feeling runs across the spine.

Diagnosis of hot flashes

Hot flashes are not particularly medical conditions, but are a symptom of other medical conditions, like, hormonal transition, anxiety, changes in blood pressure and other body conditions. Thus, hot flashes cannot be diagnosed as such. A physical medical check-up may diagnose the root medical condition you are suffering from, from the description of your hot flashes. 

The doctor may prescribe blood tests to diagnose the root medical condition, depending on the complexity of the medical condition you might be suffering from.

How to treat hot flashes?

Hot Flashes can be eased or treated by a variety of treatments, such as:

  • Hormone Therapy
  • Bio-identical Hormone Therapy
  • Medication/ Drug Treatment
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Black Cohosh

(Disclaimer: Some of the mentioned treatments have not been tested by clinical studies and are based on assumptions only.)

How to stop hot flashes fast?

  • Hot flashes can be relieved by natural and home remedies as well as through exercise programs and relaxation methods. Sleeping in a cool environment and using cotton bedclothes can ease up the tension in the body and prevent hot flashes. 
  • Black Cohosh, a herbal preparation is often used by women in the U.S. to ease out short-term hot flashes. The side effects of this herbal preparation are incidentally lower than the other oral medicines, even though it is not medically approved.
  • Plant-derived oestrogen that is found in Soy, Chickpeas and lentils may also be used as a fast relief of hot flashes. These plant-based oestrogens have isoflavone chemical compounds which contribute to the increase in oestrogen levels in the body. These plant-based oestrogens are commonly known as a phytoestrogen. 
  • Herbal treatments like Black Cohosh and vitamins may also help. 

Supplements recommended for hot flashes

Vitamin supplements are generally used for treating hot flashes during menopause. Doctors usually suggest the following vitamin, herbs and supplements:

  • Vitamin E
  • Liquorice
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Dong Quai
  • Wild Yam
  • Chasteberry

Are there any alternative methods of treating hot flash during menopause?

Prescription medications and externally injected oestrogen may provide relief for hot flashes. It is found that non-oestrogen drugs can be up to 70 per cent as effective as oestrogen therapy while treating hot flash.

  • SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and SNRIs (Selective norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors) are a class of medication that is generally used to treat depression and anxiety. Studies show that it is also effective in reducing menopausal hot flashes. The most common SNRI is venlafaxine (Effexor). SSRIs like paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR) and fluoxetine (Prozac) can also control hot flashes effectively. 
  • Clonidine (Catapres) helps in reducing blood pressure and effectively relieves hot flashes in some women, while it is ineffective in others. However, the side-effects of Clonidine can be uncomfortable, like, drowsiness, dry mouth, constipation and difficulty in sleeping. Clonidine is available as pills and patches. 
  • Megestrol acetate (Megace) is a type of progesterone, a hormone in females. It effectively relieves hot flashes, but the supplement can be taken only for a short period of time. If the medication is stopped abruptly, serious effects can occur to your health. Megestrol also leads to weight gain. 
  • Medroxyprogesterone acetate (Depo-Provera) is another type of progesterone that helps in relieving hot flashes. Even though it can be taken on a long-term basis, it may have serious effects on your health like lowering bone density and weight gain.
  • Gabapentin (Neurontin) is an oral drug that is used for treating seizures and also helps in relieving hot flashes moderately. However, it can cause drowsiness. 

Can you prevent hot flashes?

Hot flashes cannot be prevented as such, because, it is not a medical condition. However, taking proper care of yourself from the teenage years and making sure your body has all the essential minerals, vitamins and nutrients adequately can reduce the severity of the hot flashes.