If you're wondering what a hot flash is, then chances are that you haven't had one. It is that distinctive! This issue is one of the more common in women's health. Women experience a wave of heat, ranging from mild to intense, that passes through their upper body, flushing the face and causing her to sweat, sometimes profusely. More than half of all women experience these symptoms during menopause or perimenopause, the period just before and immediately after menopause. Many also experience these during pregnancy. Additionally, young women of reproductive age who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or chronic menstrual cycle-related symptoms can experience this even before menopause. But, before you can figure out how to stop them, you should understand what causes them.
Here are a few points that should help you better understand the causes:
- Cause. Most researchers agree that the declining estrogen hormone levels (caused by decreased ovarian function) that accompany menopause affect heat regulation systems in the brain. The exact mechanism of this effect is not understood or agreed upon within the scientific community.
- Short-Term Duration. On average, the duration lasts from thirty seconds to several minutes and varies greatly from woman to woman. However, at times, they can last up to half an hour.
- Long-Term Duration. The duration of the experience can last from one to several years.
- Triggers. They can occur at any time or place. Increases in the body's core temperature appear to trigger them. Additionally, drinking alcohol or caffeine, smoking, stress and diet pills have been found to trigger hot flashes.
- Skin Changes. Breakouts of red or blotchy skin on the neck, chest and face frequently accompany the experience as well.
- Other Symptoms. A rapid heartbeat, dizziness and perspiration can be side effects as well.
- Chilling. Once it passes, women report feeling chilled, often as suddenly and intensely as the onset. The rapid evaporation of prodigious amounts of sweat can contribute to this sensation.
- Night Sweats. When this occurs at night, you are experiencing "night sweats." However, this may also be a symptom of sleep apnea or fever.
- Menopausal-Like Hot Flashes in Young Women. Young women of reproductive age who suffer from premenstrual syndrome or chronic menstrual cycle-related symptoms are most likely to experience hot flashes associated with their menstrual cycle. You can read more about this phenomenon at Fertility and Sterility: The Official Journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
- Power Surges. In 1992, a menopausal woman by the name of Alice Lotto Stamm reframed the term "hot flash" and thus the power surge was born. Stamm now runs PowerSurge, a popular Web community where you can find online forums, expert columns and message boards all about menopause.
For some women, diet and lifestyle changes can help to control these symptoms as well. For other women, dietary supplements and medicines have greater effect. Consult your doctor first before embarking on any course of treatment.