What is hot flashes?

Hot Flashes
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Hot flashes during menopause: Overview

A hot flash is a sudden feeling of intense body heat. Your head, neck, and chest may get red. Your heartbeat may speed up, and you may feel anxious. You may find that hot flashes occur more often in warm rooms or during stressful times. Hot flashes and other symptoms are a normal response to the hormone changes that occur before your menstrual cycle goes away completely (menopause).

Hot flashes often get better and go away with time. Making lifestyle changes or taking medicine may help with symptoms.

Hot flashes

A hot flash is a sudden sensation of intense body heat, often with profuse sweating and reddening of the head, neck, and chest. These symptoms can be accompanied by mild to severe heart palpitations, anxiety, irritability and, in rare cases, panic.

Hot flashes are the most common symptom of changing estrogen levels around the time of menopause. They strike unexpectedly, often at night, and usually last several seconds to minutes. Hot flashes:

  • Can happen during perimenopause. This is the time when estrogen levels are changing.
  • Most often happen during the first 1 to 2 years after menopause. At this time, estrogen levels drop below a certain point. If menopause starts from chemotherapy, from surgical removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy) during hysterectomy, or from antiestrogen treatment for breast cancer, you are more likely to have severe hot flashes.
  • Continue to affect some people for 5 years or more after menopause.

Hot flashes can also be caused by thyroid problems, cancers, and stress. They also can happen when taking hormone therapy for prostate cancer.

Several medicines are available to treat hot flashes.

How are medicines used to treat hot flashes?

There are prescription medicines that can help with hot flashes.

  • Hormone therapy (HT) can reduce or stop hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. It replaces the hormones that drop at menopause.
  • Estrogen-progestin birth control pills (before menopause) can reduce or stop hot flashes and other symptoms.
  • Antidepressant medicine can reduce the number of hot flashes and how bad they are.
  • Clonidine may relieve hot flashes.
  • Gabapentin may lower the number of hot flashes each day. It also may make hot flashes less severe.

How can you care for hot flashes during menopause?

  • If you decide to take medicine to treat hot flashes, take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicine your doctor prescribes.
  • Learn to meditate. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Try to practice each day. Books, classes, and tapes can help you start a program.
  • Wear natural fabrics, such as cotton and silk. Dress in layers so you can take off clothes as needed.
  • Keep the room temperature cool, or use a fan. You are more likely to have a hot flash when you are too warm than when you are cool.
  • Use fewer blankets when you sleep at night.
  • Drink cold fluids rather than hot ones.
  • Limit food and drinks that make your symptoms worse. This may include things like caffeine, alcohol, or spicy foods.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make hot flashes worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.

Managing hot flashes with lifestyle choices

You can manage hot flashes by making certain lifestyle choices. Some measures may help to prevent or reduce hot flashes. Others can make you more comfortable when you're having a hot flash.

  • Eat and drink well.
    • Limit food and drinks that make your symptoms worse. This may include things like caffeine, alcohol, or spicy foods.
    • Drink cold liquids rather than hot ones.
    • Eat healthy foods.
  • Stay cool.
    • Keep your area cool. Use a fan.
    • Dress in layers. Then you can remove clothes as needed.
    • Wear natural fabrics, such as cotton and silk.
    • Sleep with fewer blankets.
  • Reduce stress.
    • Get regular exercise.
    • Use relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, yoga, or biofeedback.
  • Don't smoke or use other forms of tobacco.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.