When you think of hot flashes, you probably think of a woman in menopause. But believe it or not, men can also experience the discomfort of flushing and sweating from hot flashes. In fact, according to Harvard Medical School (HMS), although fewer men experience this condition than women do, some men can find hot flashes just as troubling as middle-aged women do (HMS, 2009).
What Makes Men Flash?
Approximately 70 percent of women are prone to post-menopausal hot flashes when their estrogen levels decrease at menopause (HMS, 2009). As with women, hormones are the culprit in men’s hot flashes. However, men don’t experience a sharp decrease in their testosterone as they age. Their hormone levels decline only by about one percentage point after age 40 (HMS, 2009). Therefore, the majority of men maintain an adequate store of testosterone and never experience hot flashes.
Still, you may find yourself “flashing” if you receive a treatment for prostate cancer called androgen deprivation therapy. Testosterone stimulates prostate cell growth—so therapies that reduce testosterone levels can help treat prostate cancer. However, when testosterone drops, hot flashes become more common.
HMS estimates that as many as 80 percent of men who are treated with androgen deprivation therapy may have hot flashes (HMS, 2009). The Journal of Supportive Oncology reports that men who have been castrated due to prostate cancer may experience hot flashes as commonly as women do after menopause (Spetz et al., 2003).
Symptoms in Men
While the triggers of hormone decrease differ for men and women, the symptoms of hot flashes are identical in both genders. That is, a sensation of warmth and flushing comes on suddenly—most intensely in the head and trunk areas. Heavy sweating and a reddening of the skin may accompany these symptoms.
Such symptoms may pass quickly, averaging about four minutes, and end in a cold sweat. Some men and women will experience these symptoms infrequently, while others may suffer from them up to 10 times a day (HMS, 2009).
Most men stop having flashes within three to four months of finishing their androgen deprivation treatment (HMS, 2009). Men who stay on the therapy may continue to suffer from symptoms.
How to Treat Men’s Hot Flashes
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), three drugs can effectively treat hot flashes in men who have prostate cancer:
- venlafaxine (Effexor LP), an antidepressant
- medroxyprogesterone acetate (Gestoral), a progestin hormone therapy
- cyproterone acetate (Androcur) an antiandrogen hormone therapy (NCI, 2010)
In a 2010 study published in Lancet Oncology, all three of these medicines decreased the number of hot flashes and the level of their intensity. The hormonal therapies were found to be about twice as effective as the antidepressant at symptom treatment (Irani et al., 2010).
Men with hot flashes may receive some relief from taking female hormones as well. HMS reports on research that found 83 percent of men experienced relief from taking estradiol, and 80 to 90 percent reported reductions using megestrol and medroxyprogesterone. The antiseizure medicine gabapentin has also been found to reduce hot flashes in men (HMS, 2009).
In addition, the NCI notes that hot flashes in men are not always serious enough to require treatment—so if in doubt, wait it out (NCI, 2010). While being male doesn’t make you immune to hot flashes, you can take comfort in knowing that the symptom is highly treatable.