Hot flashes are something many women experience, but aren't often talked about. Ranging from mildly annoying to debilitating, it’s important to know what hot flashes are and what your options are with managing them!
We’re going to break it all down: what hot flashes are, what causes them, when they are normal or abnormal, and ways you can manage hot flashes to get back to feeling the best version of yourself!
What are Hot Flashes?
A hot flash (also called night sweats when occurring during sleep) is a sudden feeling of warmth, especially in the upper body, chest, neck, and face. Sometimes skin redness and sweating occurs too.
For some women, the sensations of hot flashes only last a few moments. For others they can be severe and disruptive to daily life. Some women experience hourly waves of warmth, tons of sweating, increased heart rate, and disrupted sleep… which leads to feeling exhausted and irritable.
During a hot flash, you might have:
- A sudden feeling of warmth around your chest, neck, and face
- A flushed appearance
- Red & blotchy skin
- Increased heart rate
- Sweating (primarily on your upper body)
- Chills after the hot flash subsides
What Causes Hot Flashes?
That sudden feeling of warmth (and sometimes sweating) are caused by changes in hormones, specifically estrogen.
Hormones are chemical messengers that tell our body what to do, when to do it, and for how long to do it for. During perimenopause and menopause, estrogen levels fluctuate greatly… and then ultimately decrease.
Changes in estrogen levels results in the hypothalamus (part of the brain that controls many bodily functions) to become more sensitive. The hypothalamus “gets confused”, and thinks your body is hot, even when it isn’t. When the hypothalamus thinks you're too warm, it triggers a hot flash to cool you down.
When are Hot Flashes Abnormal?
Hot flashes are normal and common during perimenopause and menopause. During the menopausal period, hot flashes may repeatedly occur for on average 7 years, but can last for over a decade. (Don’t fret! We’ll dive into how to manage them below).
Although hot flashes may be frustrating during perimenopause and menopause, there is no need to be concerned that something abnormal is occurring.
If you are not pregnant, under 40 and regularly get hot flashes, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner to see what’s going on.
How to Manage Hot Flashes
Living with hot flashes for up to a decade is not fun (obviously!). Luckily, there are many ways to help manage hot flashes, ranging from simple lifestyle tweaks to hormone replacement therapy. Because we are all unique individuals, our bodies experience hot flashes and respond to treatments differently, so it may take some trial and error before finding what works best for you!
#1 Avoid Hot Flash Triggers
Certain foods and lifestyle triggers worsen hot flashes such as hot drinks, spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, excess stress, and cigarettes. Therefore, decreasing your coffee or caffeine intake will probably help. Don’t shoot the messenger! We’re not saying to never have coffee again. Simply notice if it does increase your symptoms. If so, try switching coffee out for a lower caffeine drink like Matcha green tea.
#2 Stress management
It’s critical to actively manage stress, as stress has been shown to increase perimenopause symptoms. Lowering stress levels can decrease hot flashes and improve insomnia and mood. Activities that reduce stress include meditation, yoga, journaling, acupuncture, and massage. Choose one of these activities and start incorporating it into your daily routine. Just 5 minutes a day of deep breathing can make a world of a difference.
Regular movement helps reduce stress, improve mood, cognition and focus, prevent hot flashes, and can help with weight management. The best type of exercise for you is the type you enjoy… so that you’ll actually do it! If you hate HIIT, try yoga. Dread spinning? Try a dance class. Find a way that you love to move and aim to do it for at least 20 minutes a day and 5 times a week!
#4 Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT is a safe and effective treatment for hot flashes and other perimenopausal symptoms when prescribed properly. If you are interested in exploring this option, speak with your doctor or nurse practitioner so that they can evaluate if HRT is a good choice for you.
Hot flashes can range from mildly inconvenient to a total day disrupter. As challenging as they may be, it’s helpful to remember there are many ways to keep hot flashes at bay.
Your hormones don’t get the final say. You do.
✓ A hot flash (also called night sweats when occurring during sleep) is a sudden feeling of warmth, especially in the upper body, chest, neck, and face. Sometimes skin redness and sweating occurs too.
✓ Hormones are chemical messengers that tell our body what to do, when to do it, and for how long to do it for. During perimenopause and menopause, estrogen levels fluctuate greatly… and then ultimately decrease.