A hot flash is a feeling of intense warmth that’s not 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 of the skin on the face, neck, ears, chest, or other areas
- sweating, especially in the upper body
- tingling in your fingers
- experiencing a heartbeat that is faster than usual
Many people also feel cold or get chills as the hot flash lets up.
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 depend on what triggers them.
Hormonal changes in your body are thought to cause hot flashes. This reaction can be triggered by several factors.
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
- spinal lesions
- some medications, including raloxifene (Evista), tamoxifen, and tramadol
There are many possible causes of hot flashes and this list is not comprehensive. If you experience repeat hot flashes that don’t go away, you should call a doctor.
Treating hot flashes depends on what’s causing them. Many people can manage their hot flashes at home with some strategies. In cases of more severe hot flashes, your doctor may prescribe medication to help reduce them. Other people use alternative treatments for hot flashes, although you should talk to your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements.
Lifestyle changes and strategies for managing hot flashes
To manage your hot flashes, it helps to know what triggers them. One way to figure out what’s triggering your hot flashes is to keep a hot flash diary. Take note of each incident, including what 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 diary to help diagnose your symptoms.
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 room temperature
- wearing cotton clothes and using cotton bed linens
- 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
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 these lifestyle changes and strategies don’t work, or in severe cases, your doctor may prescribe medication to help you manage hot flashes. Possible prescriptions include:
- hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication
- clonidine, a high blood pressure medication
If hyperthyroidism, beta-blockers, or antithyroid medications cause your hot flashes, there are medications used to relieve symptoms. Surgery may be necessary in extreme cases to remove the malfunctioning areas of the thyroid gland.
Note that using some of these prescription drugs for hot flashes is off-label use. Off-label drug use means that a drug that’s been approved by the FDA for one purpose is used for a different purpose that has not been approved.
A doctor can still prescribe these drugs for treating your symptoms. This is because the FDA regulates the testing and approval of drugs, but not how doctors use drugs to treat their patients. So, your doctor can prescribe a drug if they think it’s best for your care.
Some people prefer to use natural or alternative remedies to treat their hot flashes. One option is acupuncture. A 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. Research has been inconclusive on the following herbs and supplements. You should check with your doctor before taking any herbs and supplements because they can sometimes interfere with medications you’re taking.
- black cohosh: If you have liver disease, don’t use this.
- dong quai: If you take blood thinner medications like warfarin you shouldn’t use this.
- evening primrose oil: This may interfere with blood thinners and some psychiatric medications.
- soy isoflavones