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Was That a Hot Flash?

J.B.

Hot flashes.  You know what I’m talking about – that sudden burst of heat that causes your skin to tingle and turn red.  You start sweating, your fingers tingle, your heart races a bit, and if it goes on long enough or is severe enough, running naked through the snow starts to sound pretty good.

Hot flashes commonly occur during menopause and perimenopause, that time leading up to menopause.  They can last anywhere from a few seconds to many minutes or longer.  The medical term for hot flashes is “vasomotor symptoms”, although I prefer to think of them as power surges.

Seriously though, it’s no laughing matter for many women.  The North American Menopause Society has gathered some statistics showing that “as many as 75% of North American women have hot flashes during perimenopause, and nearly a quarter of them experience enough discomfort to seek relief from their clinicians."

Hormone changes can cause hot flashes (along with night sweats and other symptoms) and, for some women, they can go on for a long time.  According to Dr. Wen Shen, Assistant Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at John Hopkins Medicine, menopausal-related hot flashes can start when you in your thirties or forties and continue on into your late fifties.

The erratic and extreme fluctuations in estrogen levels during and in the years prior to menopause affects the hypothalamus and triggers changes in the blood vessels.  During a hot flash, they constrict and expand rapidly and send blood to the vessels nearest the skin.  The good news is that the temperature change doesn’t usually affect your core temperature, so hot flashes are not generally considered dangerous.  But they can be uncomfortable and annoying, especially when they disrupt sleep.

But did you know that hormonal activity isn’t the only culprit?  There are other triggers of hot flashes for some women.  

Caffeine.  According to one study, caffeine is associated with hot flashes.  That’s not good news for the coffee-lovers among us, but there’s always decaf (although it’s important to know that decaffeinated coffee has less caffeine but isn’t caffeine-free). 

Spicy Food.  Spices such as chili powders, hot peppers, jalapenos, cayenne and others contain capsaicin, a vasodilator (substances that open blood vessels).  The expansion of the blood vessels produces heat and can result in hot flashes. 

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Alcohol.  Some researchers suggest that alcohol contributes to hot flashes and night sweats.  Alcohol has been identified as a vasodilator and it also impacts the body thermoregulation (temperature control). 

Weight.  There is one study (and others) that links body mass index and the frequency of hot flashes and night sweats.  The study claims that “body-fat tissue acts a strong heat insulator” and that “this study supports earlier studies that found that women who are heavier tend to have more hot flashes, particularly close to menopause”.

Ethnicity.  Your ethnicity could be a factor in the frequency of hot flashes (how unfair is THAT).  According to one study conducted in Texas and other studies conducted elsewhere in the U.S., African American women get the most severe and persistent hot flashes, Asian women have the fewest and Hispanic and non-Hispanic white women fall in the middle.

Stress.  Stress and anxiety have been strongly associated with hot flashes, exponentially.  Women with high-stress levels are reportedly five times more likely to report hot flashes.

Non-Medicinal Management Techniques

Many women get hot flashes and while they can be annoying, disruptive, and sometimes embarrassing, there are some non-medicinal measures that might help. 

The Mayo Clinic advises some easy-to-do (and some not-so-easy-to-do) steps to help relieve hot flashes:

  • keep cool by dressing in layers that you can remove if you feel warm
  • open some windows or use a fan or air conditioner
  • sip a cold drink if you feel a hot flash coming on
  • wear open-weave cotton clothes
  • watch what you eat and drink
  • don’t smoke
  • relax
  • lose weight

When to See a Doctor

Not all hot flashes are related to menopause or perimenopause.  Sometimes, they’re an indication of hypothyroidism or other health conditions.  If you have any concerns about having hot flashes, it’s wise to consult a qualified health practitioner. 

If your core temperature goes over 102 or 103 degrees, that’s not a hot flash – that’s a fever.   According to Dr. Edward Ward of Rush University Medical Center, you should seek medical attention, especially if the elevated temperature has lasted more than a couple of days or if there’s no obvious cause for the fever such as cold or flu symptoms.

 

NannoPads won’t cure hot flashes, but they can help with odor-control, naturally.  Its Pantyliners are great for spotting and discharge. Order yours here.

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