It seems that hot flashes are the bane of many women’s lives at menopause – and they have quite an effect on those around them too. Hot flashes come on without any warning and can range from being mildly uncomfortable to downright unbearable. Symptoms range from just a slight redness of the face to a full body sweat that leaves you wringing wet and generating enough heat to boil water and the dreaded night sweats that can seriously disturb your sleep.
It’s estimated that around 30% of menopausal women will get some form of hot flashes. How affected you are will depend on several factors, including where you live and what you eat. Some lucky women never get them at all and they are certainly very much more common in the western world. There is no word in Japanese for instance to cover this phenomenon because there do not seem to suffer from them – unless they have switched to a predominantly western diet. So if you are unlucky enough to suffer from hot flashes it might help to learn why they occur and let you gauge whether or not you are likely to be a sufferer.
The Reasons Why
Although some lucky women escape completely, there are some very good reasons why we experience the heat that we associate with menopause:
1 – Blood Vessels
Hot flashes occur when the blood vessels below the skin dilate. This causes more blood to rush to the skin’s surface, and that is what makes you look red and flushed, and feel that tell-tale rise in temperature. The body’s normal response to this is to try and cool you down, and it does this by making you sweat. When your body temperature increases your body immediately goes into action and how it normally brings your temperature down is through making you sweat. What is unique about hot flashes is that this mechanism kicks in when the outside temperature can be very low and you do not have any signs of fever.
2– Fluctuating hormones
Well you know all about this during menopause, and in fact the changing levels of your hormones are the prime cause of hot flashes. When your hormone levels fluctuate they cause the temperature control mechanism in the body to be disturbed. The centre which controls this is in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and it seems that it is changing levels of oestrogen and FSH (follicular stimulating hormone) that can upset this delicate balance and cause hot flashes.
Women having hot flashes usually have decreased oestrogen levels and increased FSH levels, but it is important to remember that it is the changes and fluctuations in the hormone levels – rather than the actual amount of hormone being produced – that produces hot flashes.
3 – Surgical menopause
It is to be expected that menopause symptoms come naturally when a woman’s childbearing years are coming to a close and the menopause or perimenopause is under way. However, women who have a hysterectomy or their ovaries removed at an age when they would not normally be going through menopause are more likely to experience more severe and frequent hot flashes after the surgery than in a natural menopause transition.
Even if the ovaries are retained it is no guarantee that an early menopause will not occur, as their effectiveness at producing progesterone will be affected and will diminish over time.
These are the reasons, and I hope it helps explain why you may be feeling hot and bothered. After all knowledge is power, and some women do like to refer to their hot flashes as power surges!