You’re enjoying a night on the town with your friends. Just as you’re eating what you swear will be the last nacho, you suddenly feel hot and can’t stop sweating. Your heart is racing. Your friends tell you there are red splotches on your face.

The first few times this happens, you may be very alarmed and not sure what’s happening. The good news: you’re not having a heart attack, you don’t have the flu, you’re not even sick. This is what a hot flash feels like. The bad news: you may have many more.

What Are The Causes of Hot Flashes During Menopause?

Hot flashes are a symptom of menopause, the time in every woman’s life when menstruation stops (call it what you will: your period, “that time of month,” or one of a thousand other nicknames). During menopause, your estrogen levels are starting to decline, but the process often causes estrogen to go haywire for a while before settling down. When the levels fall, your hypothalamus, the part of your brain which controls your body’s thermostat, gets confused and thinks you’re too hot. Ironically, the sweating from a hot flash is your body’s way of going into cool-down mode: under ordinary circumstances, the evaporation of sweat makes you feel cooler.

While there are some lucky women who don’t experience hot flashes during menopause at all, others are not as fortunate. If the hormones alone don’t cause them, other factors can.

  • Stress and anxiety
    You have a big meeting with an important client and your boss has given you an impossible deadline, your mother-in-law suddenly shows up without notice, and you can’t get the dog to stop barking. We all have days like that, and they definitely measure high on the stress scale. It’s probably not surprising that stress and anxiety can play an important role in causing hot flashes. According to a scientific study published in the medical journal Menopause, menopausal and premenopausal women who experienced the highest levels of stress were five times more likely to have hot flashes than women under normal amounts of stress.If you know you have a stressful day ahead, you may want to pack some deodorant and a change of clothes.
  • Foods to avoid
    If you’re already suffering from hot flashes, there may be some foods and beverages you’re consuming – and enjoying – that could be contributing to your symptoms.  Spicy food and alcohol could raise your body temperature, so avoiding them may help. For those of us who love our java, it’s unfortunate that caffeine could be another culprit because it has been shown to increase the intensity of hot flashes. Cutting down on coffee or caffeinated tea may help you.

What Are Some of the Risk Factors for Hot Flashes?

Smoking: If you’ve been thinking of quitting, menopause gives you another great reason to do it.  Women who smoke cigarettes, or who used to smoke, are more likely to get hot flashes than women who have never smoked.

Obesity: A high body mass index (BMI) (25 – 29.9 or higher) is associated with a higher occurrence of hot flashes.

Physical inactivity: We’ve all heard the many reasons that exercise is important for health, but here’s one you may not know: women who don’t exercise may be more likely to have hot flashes during menopause. You know exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, and may have heard it can reduce stress and anxiety, so here’s another compelling reason to build exercise into your day. Make a habit of walking, cycling, swimming, or whatever appeals to you. Just get moving!

What Are Some Ways You Can Prevent or Lessen the Intensity of Hot Flashes? 

What are hot flashes? The truth is, they can be awful. They can disrupt your life by striking at the worst times. A hot flash can leave you soaked in sweat while you’re meeting with clients, having fun with friends, or at home trying to get a good night’s sleep.  Hot flashes don’t make it easy to “Keep Calm and Carry on.”  However, there are dietary changes you can make, and hormonal and non-hormonal therapies to relieve hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.  You don’t have to just put up with it; you can explore some of the different treatments for hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. Schedule an appointment with your gynecologist to learn about your options.

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