Hot Flashes

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Hot flash facts

  • Hot flashes are feelings or warmth that spread over the body and last from 30 seconds to a few minutes.
  • Hot flashes are a characteristic symptom of the menopausal transition in women but may occasionally result from other medical conditions.
  • About 70% of women will experience hot flashes at some point in the menopausal transition.
  • Hot flashes may be treated by hormone therapy or other medications if necessary.
  • Some alternative treatments for hot flashes have been proposed and may provide relief for some women; the effectiveness of other alternative treatments has not been adequately scientifically evaluated.

What are hot flashes?

A hot flash is a feeling of warmth that spreads over the body that begins in the head and neck regions. Hot flashes are a common symptom experienced by women prior to, and during the early stages of the menopausal transition. However, not all women approaching the menopause will develop hot flashes.

What causes hot flashes?

The complex hormonal changes that accompany the aging process, in particular the declining levels of estrogen as a woman approaches menopause, are thought to be the underlying cause of hot flashes. A disorder in thermoregulation (methods the body uses to control and regulate body temperature) is responsible for the heat sensation, but the exact way in which the changing hormone levels affect thermoregulation is not fully understood.

Hot flashes are considered to be a hallmark characteristic symptom of the menopausal transition. They also occur in men and in circumstances other than the perimenopause in women as a result of certain uncommon medical conditions that affect the process of thermoregulation. For example, the carcinoid syndromewhich results from a type of endocrine tumor that secretes large amounts of the hormone serotonin can cause hot flashes. Hot flashes can also develop as a side effect of some medications and sometimes occur with severe infections or cancers that may be associated with fevers and/or night sweats.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/7/2014

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Hot Flash Causes

Anxiety Worsens Hot Flashes

Medical Author: Melissa Stöppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

Controlling lifestyle stress and anxiety may help reduce the number and severity of hot flashes associated with menopause, according to doctors at the University of Pennsylvania.

Hot flashes are perhaps the most troublesome symptom associated with approaching menopause and are experienced by a majority of women during the transition to menopause. Menopause - the ending of menstruation - is defined as having 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period and occurs at an average age of 51.

Researchers studied over 400 Caucasian and African American women between 37 and 47 years of age who still had regular menstrual cycles. The women took tests that measured their anxiety levels at the start of the study and again following a six-year period. After six years, many of the women were experiencing hot flashes and irregular menstrual periods, two signs of approaching menopause. The women's anxiety scores were directly correlated with the severity and frequency of hot flashes, even when factors such as blood estrogen levels, cigarette smoking, and stage of menopause were taken into account. Those women with the highest anxiety levels reported almost five times as many hot flashes as less-anxious women, and women with moderate anxiety had hot flashes three times as often as those with normal levels of anxiety.