A hot flash is a brief, intense feeling of heat across your body. You may experience them during your menstrual cycle due to hormonal fluctuations or other causes.
You may feel a hot flash across the face, neck, and upper torso, which may last a few seconds or several minutes.
Other symptoms include:
- red, flushed skin
- increased heart rate
- extreme sweating
- chills as the hot flash passes
Most people associate hot flashes with menopause, but they can also occur as part of your menstrual cycle well before you reach menopause.
While they can sometimes indicate an underlying health issue, hot flashes generally aren’t anything to worry about if they aren’t accompanied by other symptoms.
Read on to learn more about hot flashes during your period, including why they happen, when they might indicate early menopause, how to manage them, and when to see a doctor.
Hot flashes most likely happen as a result of changing hormone levels in your body. For example, during menopause, both estrogen and progesterone levels plummet. This is why those in perimenopause or menopause commonly experience hot flashes.
could it be perimenopause?
Perimenopause typically occurs in your 40s, but it can also happen in your mid- to late 30s.
Similar hormonal changes also happen throughout your menstrual cycle, causing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which include hot flashes for some people.
After you ovulate around the 14th day of your cycle, progesterone levels increase. This can cause a slight increase in your body temperature, though you may not notice it.
As progesterone levels rise, estrogen levels fall. This decrease can affect the function of your hypothalamus, the part of your brain that keeps your body temperature stable.
In response to lower estrogen levels, your brain releases norepinephrine and other hormones, which can make your brain even more sensitive to small changes in body temperature.
As a result, it may send signals telling your body to sweat so you can cool off — even if you don’t really need to.
While hot flashes can be a normal PMS symptom for some, they can be a sign of early menopause, now known as primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), in others.
POI causes menopause symptoms earlier than your mid 40s to 50s, when menopause usually occurs. Despite the name of the condition, experts have found evidence to suggest ovaries can still function with POI, but that function is unpredictable.
Symptoms of POI can include:
- infrequent and irregular periods
- hot flashes or night sweats
- mood changes
- trouble concentrating
- less interest in sex
- pain during sex
- vaginal dryness
If you have symptoms of POI and know you may want to have children, it’s a good idea to mention your symptoms to your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Getting treatment for POI could potentially help increase your chance of becoming pregnant in the future.
In some cases, hot flashes during your period could be a sign of a different medical issue or medication side effects.
Possible underlying causes of hot flashes other than menopause include:
- infections, including mild or common infections as well as more serious ones, such as tuberculosis or endocarditis
- thyroid conditions, including hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or thyroid cancer
- low testosterone
- alcohol use disorder
- a tumor in your pituitary gland or hypothalamus
- cancer and cancer treatment
Anxiety and stress can also cause symptoms that resemble hot flashes. For example, you might experience flushed skin, increased heart rate, and increased sweating as a result of an adrenaline rush, which often accompanies an anxiety or stress response.
You might also get hot flashes as a side effect of certain medications, including:
Hot flashes can be uncomfortable, but there are several things you can try to make them more bearable:
- Diet changes. Cut back on caffeine, alcohol (especially red wine), spicy foods, aged cheese, and chocolate. These foods and beverages can trigger hot flashes and might also make them worse.
- Kick the habit. Try to quit smoking. Smoking may increase hot flashes and make them more severe.
- Relax. Practice relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, yoga, and meditation. Becoming more relaxed may not directly impact your hot flashes, but they may help make them easier to manage and help improve your quality of life.
- Hydrate. Keep cool water with you throughout the day and drink it when you feel a hot flash coming on.
- Exercise. Make time for exercise most days. Getting enough exercise can provide a number of health benefits and may help you have fewer hot flashes.
- Try acupuncture. Acupuncture helps with hot flashes for some people, though it may not work for everyone.
- Consume soy. Soy contains phytoestrogens, a chemical that acts like estrogen in your body. More research is needed, but eating soy may help reduce hot flashes. Other dietary supplements may also help.
- Wear layers. Stay cool by dressing in layers. Choose lightweight, breathable fabrics, such as cotton. If possible, keep your home and work environment cool with fans and open windows.
- Stock your fridge. Keep a small towel chilled in your refrigerator to place on your face or around your neck when you have a hot flash. You can also use a cool washcloth or cold compress for the same effect.
Medical treatments such as hormone replacement therapy and low-dose antidepressants can also help treat hot flashes.
If you get frequent or severe hot flashes that have a negative impact on your daily life, you may want to talk to your doctor about possible treatment options.
If you only have hot flashes just before your period starts or when you have your period, and you don’t have other unusual symptoms, you likely don’t need to be too concerned. Still, it may be worth following up with your healthcare provider just to be sure.
In some cases, hot flashes may indicate a serious condition. Talk to your healthcare provider if you get regular hot flashes along with:
- appetite changes
- difficulty sleeping
- unexplained weight loss
- unexplained rash
- swollen lymph nodes
You might also consider talking to a therapist, especially if hot flashes cause mood changes or increase feelings of anxiety or stress.
For some, hot flashes can be a normal PMS symptom or a sign that you’re approaching menopause. But in some cases, they could be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you regularly get hot flashes during your period, especially if you’re in your 20s or early 30s.