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A hot flash is a feeling of intense warmth that isn’t caused by an external source. Hot flashes can appear suddenly, or you may feel them coming on over a period of a few minutes.
Symptoms of hot flashes include:
- having skin that suddenly feels warm
- experiencing redness on parts of the body, such as the face, neck, ears, or chest
- sweating, especially in the upper body
- tingling in your fingers
- experiencing a heartbeat that’s faster than usual
Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause. Women undergoing menopause can experience hot flashes as often as several times a day.
Menopause isn’t the only cause of hot flashes, though. Anyone can experience them. How long they last and how often you feel them depends on what triggers them.
Hormonal changes in your body are thought to cause hot flashes. Hormonal imbalance can have a variety of triggers, including:
Other potential triggers of hot flashes include:
- spicy foods
- hot drinks
- being in a warm room
- wearing tight clothing
- stress and anxiety
- pregnancy, particularly during the first and second trimesters
- an overactive or underactive thyroid
- radiation therapy
- spinal lesions
- some medications, including the osteoporosis drug raloxifene (Evista), the breast cancer drug tamoxifen (Soltamox), and the pain reliever tramadol (Conzip, Ultram)
Many people can manage their hot flashes at home with some strategies. It helps to know what triggers them first.
One way to figure out what’s triggering your hot flashes is to keep a symptom journal. Take note of each incident, including which foods you ate before the hot flash.
A symptom journal can help you narrow down your hot flash triggers and determine which lifestyle changes to make to reduce your symptoms and prevent hot flashes. Your doctor can also use the journal to help make a diagnosis.
Lifestyle changes and strategies for managing hot flashes include:
- dressing in layers, even on the coldest days, so you can adjust your clothing to how you’re feeling
- sipping ice water at the start of a hot flash
- keeping a fan on while you sleep
- lowering the room temperature
- wearing cotton clothes and using cotton bed sheets
- keeping an ice pack on your bedside table
- avoiding spicy foods
- limiting how much alcohol you drink
- limiting hot beverages and caffeine
- stopping smoking
- using stress reduction techniques, such as yoga, meditation, or guided breathing
- avoiding high fat and high sugar foods
To deal with hot flashes while pregnant, keep rooms cool and wear loose clothing. Rinse your face with cold water, and try to avoid hot and crowded areas.
If lifestyle changes and strategies don’t work, or if your case is severe, your doctor may prescribe medication to help you manage your hot flashes.
Drugs that may be prescribed include:
- hormone replacement drugs
- gabapentin (Neurontin), an antiseizure medication
- clonidine (Kapvay), which can be used for high blood pressure or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
If beta-blockers, hyperthyroidism, or antithyroid medications are causing your hot flashes, there are medications you can use to relieve your symptoms. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the malfunctioning areas of the thyroid gland.
Note that using some of these prescription drugs for hot flashes is considered off-label use.
Off-label drug use
Off-label drug use means a drug that’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for one purpose is used for a different purpose that hasn’t yet been approved. However, a doctor can still use the drug for that purpose. This is because the FDA regulates the testing and approval of drugs, but not how doctors use drugs to treat patients. So, your doctor can prescribe a drug however they think is best for your care.
Some people prefer to use natural or alternative remedies to treat their hot flashes.
One option is acupuncture. A 2016 study of 209 women experiencing four or more menopause symptoms a day found that acupuncture significantly reduced their menopause symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats.
Herbs and supplements touted as menopause remedies are also sold at many drugstores. You should check with your doctor before taking any herbs and supplements because they can sometimes interfere with the medications you’re currently taking.
Below are herbs and supplements that are sometimes used for symptoms of menopause. Research on them has been inconclusive. Larger, higher-quality studies are needed.
Native to North America, the black cohosh root is one of the most popular herbal remedies for hot flashes. Research is mixed, with some studies indicating that it helps ease symptoms and others indicating that it has no noticeable effect.
Its side effects are mild, but you shouldn’t use it if you have liver disease.
Dong quai is a plant native to East Asia. It’s sometimes taken alongside black cohosh. Very few studies have looked specifically at its effect on menopause. The studies that do exist concluded that its effects were insignificant.
Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil is extracted from a flower.
A small 2013 study of menopausal women found that over the course of 6 weeks, two 500-milligram doses could lead to significant improvements in hot flashes.
Study participants saw a 39 percent improvement in frequency, a 42 percent improvement in severity, and a 19 percent improvement in duration. By all measures, evening primrose oil was more effective than the placebo.
Earlier studies concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence of its benefits for menopausal women.
It may interfere with blood thinners and some psychiatric medications.
Isoflavones are chemical compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen. Research from 2014 found that soy isoflavones could have modest effects on menopausal hot flashes, reducing them by up to 25.2 percent.
However, they’re a slow-acting remedy. It took soy isoflavones 13.4 weeks to reach half of their maximum effects. By comparison, it took estradiol only 3.09 weeks.
The most appropriate treatment for your hot flashes will depend on what’s causing them. However, you’ll likely be able to manage your symptoms at home with lifestyle changes.
There are many possible causes of hot flashes, and the list above isn’t comprehensive. If you experience repeat hot flashes that don’t go away, speak with a doctor. You can connect to an OB-GYN in your area using the Healthline FindCare tool.