Some women call it “the change.” Until a
woman has gone through menopause, she most likely doesn’t know what to expect.
While menopause signals the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle, symptoms can
begin years before menstruation stops. One of the most common symptoms is hot
flashes, which is a feeling of extreme warmth. This isn’t a comforting feeling
of warmth. For some women, it’s nearly unbearable.
While some people joke about hot flashes,
for many women they are no laughing matter. They can cause insomnia, distract
you from work, and cause excessive sweating that makes getting through the day
without a change of clothes impossible.
Decrease in estrogen
Experts are still not in agreement about
the cause of hot flashes during menopause. Most attribute it to the decrease in
the production of estrogen, which occurs as women move toward the menopause
stage. The Mayo Clinic points out that low estrogen alone does not cause
hot flashes. Women of all ages may have low estrogen, and they don’t always
have hot flashes. Rather, it’s the decrease
in estrogen during menopause that experts believe to be the cause of hot
For most women, this decrease is gradual. Many
experts believe that when estrogen falls, the hypothalamus section of the brain
that regulates your body temperature detects too much body heat. Some theorize that
the brain then releases hormones to help lower body heat. This causes your
heart rate to rise and blood vessels to dilate in order to allow more blood to
flow through and dissipate the heat. The increased blood flow causes the body
to produce its natural cooling method: sweat. This series of events creates
that heated, sweaty feeling that can be so inconvenient for women.
This reaction may seem normal while you
are sitting in a sauna or experiencing extreme summer heat. It can be quite
alarming when it strikes for no apparent reason, and women suddenly find
themselves breaking into a sweat at inconvenient times.
Hot flash causes
Not every woman will experience hot
flashes. Those who do will experience them in varying degrees. Hot flashes are just
a small inconvenience for some women. For others, they disrupt everyday life.
The key to reducing hot flash symptoms may lie in leading a healthy lifestyle.
Try avoiding what may worsen symptoms, including:
- obesity (if
you are overweight, talk to your doctor about how to lose weight)
Some factors that contribute to hot
flashes are outside of your control. Both genetics and ethnicity may play a
role. Doctors in Texas found
that African-American women are more likely to experience frequent and intense
hot flashes than Caucasian women. Latina women also experienced more frequent,
though less intense, hot flashes than Caucasian women.
Secondary complications from hot flashes
can disrupt a woman’s life. Some women experience “night sweats,” a form of hot
flashes that can cause insomnia. Lack of sleep at night can cause you problems
during the day. See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:
- memory loss
While many of the causes of hot flashes
are outside a woman’s control, certain triggers can cause them or make them
worse. Common triggers include:
- spicy foods
- exposure to
heat, as in warm baths or a sauna
While these activities alone won’t cause
hot flashes, they may be contributing factors in combination with already
declining estrogen levels.
If you experience hot flashes, it can
sometimes seem like there’s no relief. By understanding what causes hot flashes,
you can begin to take steps to relieve symptoms. Pay attention to what factors
are present when symptoms are at their worst. Identifying these triggers will
help you find relief as naturally and healthfully as possible.