It can start as a slight feeling of warmth and within minutes you are in the tropics and we all know how uncomfortable, and sometimes embarrassing that hot red face and sweaty body can be.
What causes hot flashes?
You need never feel alone with this as it is estimated that they occur in more than two-thirds of women during perimenopause/menopause and almost all women with a surgically induced menopause from a hysterectomy or those who have gone into premature menopause for medical reasons.
The truth is that although we can put a man on the moon we don’t actually really know for certain what causes a woman to have a hot flush, but it may be related to changes in circulation. They happen when the blood vessels near the skin’s surface dilate to cool and this is what is responsible for that red, flushed look in the face. In addition to the face, the body can start sweating to cool you down and sometimes women also experience a rapid heart rate or chills.
If you were hoping they were confined to menopause this sadly is not true – many pregnant women for instance also experience them – as one cause is clearly the fluctuation of hormones in the body. Unfortunately although some luck women only experience them for a very short time during others have them — at least to some degree — for life but generally they are less severe as time passes.
What can make flushes worse?
Every woman will have their own personal triggers, but there are some that are common to most of us.
1 Stress is the major culprit, and ironically just worrying about having a flush can bring one on. If certain situations always stress you, interviews, arguments, trying to do too much can all play havoc with your hormones so identify the problem and take preventive action where you can.
2 What you eat and drink can also make a huge difference to whether you are gong to experience a hot flush. Some are obvious, like avoiding spicy, hot food – however much you love Indian or Thai food – but others are not always so clear.
Alcohol certainly affects many women and brings on a flush as does caffeine so avoiding coffee is not difficult, but there are many other sources such as chocolate and colas, many of which are very high in caffeine.
If you are a smoker too you are more likely to experience hot flushes and there has also been a link suggested between diet pills and hot flushes as menopausal women try to shift the extra weight that can come at this time.
3 The environment also makes a difference as being in a too warm room, particularly the bedroom, can trigger a flush as can wearing clothing that is too tight so that heat is trapped against the body.
There are certainly no shortage of medications that are being used for hot flushes, but many women find them unacceptable because of their side effects.
You may be offered HRT, blood pressure medication, birth control pills, antidepressants, ibuprofen, synthetic hormones or (in the USA at least) an anti-seizure drug.
Self medication includes herbal and homoeopathic supplements and vitamins include B complex and vitamin E but for most women the most effective is to rebalance their hormones with bioidenical progesterone or progesterone and oestrogen.