Hot flashes are a common, yet troubling symptom of menopause, causing a sudden feeling of warmth, typically in the chest, face, and neck. They can turn the skin red, cause excessive sweating, and leave you feeling chilled afterwards.
Hot flashes are one of many symptoms caused by the drop of estrogen that occurs during menopause, which may effect how the hypothalamus performs to regulate body temperature. This and other points are explained in more detail in the following slides.
Changing Estrogen Levels: What it Means For Your Body
Menopause is a time in a woman’s life that signals she is no longer able to have children. During the process, the ovaries stop making eggs and they produce less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen plays an important role in regulating the monthly menstrual cycle and also believed to accelerate metabolism, increases “good” cholesterol, and maintains mental health.
The change in estrogen levels is what produces symptoms of menopause. Besides hot flashes and menstrual changes, symptoms can include mood swings, rapid heartbeat, and sleeping problems, among others.
The Hypothalamus: The Body’s Internal Thermostat
Current thinking in medicine is that the drop in estrogen during menopause triggers changes in the hypothalamus, which controls the body’s internal temperature. As a result, the hypothalamus releases chemicals that increase heart rate and send extra blood to the surface of your skin.
Besides acting as a thermostat, the hypothalamus also controls hunger, thirst, sleep, fatigue, and your body’s natural sleep pattern, or circadian rhythm. The decrease in estrogen levels can lead to sleep disturbances, nausea, and other menopause symptoms besides hot flashes.
Another problematic symptom menopause is increased sweating. This can be an uncomfortable side effect of hot flashes, and night sweats can even disturb a good night’s sleep.
Sweating is your body’s natural air conditioner. When body heat rises, your hypothalamus excretes hormones that tell your blood vessels to dilate. Warm blood heats the skin, causing sweat glands just below the skin’s surface to release sweat in order to cool you down. During menopause, hot flashes can trigger sweating even when you’re not really overheating.
Menopause is a major point in any woman’s life. Estrogen plays an important part in protecting a woman’s body, and decreased estrogen can put postmenopausal women at risk for certain diseases and medical conditions, such as heart disease, depression, and osteoporosis, a condition where bones become brittle and susceptible to fractures. Sexual changes are apparent as well. Vaginal dryness and decreased sexual desire are common for women after menopause.
Managing the Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause is something every woman will go through, but there are numerous treatments to help alleviate and manage symptoms. While hormone therapy was once a popular treatment, it has been shown to cause an array of adverse health effects and its use in treating menopause is being reconsidered.
However, there are numerous medications, supplements, and lifestyle changes that can address individual symptoms and provide relief.