Hot flashes: symptoms, causes and treatment

Hot flashes are brief periods when a person suddenly feels hot and develops sweating and flushing, usually in the face, neck, and chest. They usually last about one to five minutes and are more common during menopause. About 75% of postmenopausal women will experience hot flashes.

Hot flashes are usually treated and controlled with lifestyle changes. However, some people with severe symptoms will need hormone therapy to control their hot flashes. Fortunately, hot flashes last less than two years for most people.

This article discusses the causes of hot flashes and how to treat them.

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Symptoms of hot flashes

Many people experience hot flashes in addition to other menopausal symptoms. The main sign of hot flashes is an increase in skin temperature, especially around the face, neck and chest. You may also encounter:

  • Redness or red tinge to the skin, similar to blushing
  • Sweat
  • feel very hot
  • Heartbeat or heart palpitations
  • Dizziness

Symptoms of hot flashes usually come on suddenly and go away quickly. Hot flashes usually last no more than five minutes. Still, their impact can be significant, and many people report sleep loss due to nighttime hot flashes, known as night sweats.

Causes of hot flashes

Hot flashes occur when the body reacts to a slight rise in core temperature. During menopause, levels of the hormone estrogen drop significantly. The researchers believe that this drop makes the body more sensitive to even small temperature regulations.

Types of hot flashes

Hot flashes are more common during menopause, but they can also happen after childbirth, because of the medications you take or the foods you eat.

Postpartum hot flashes

Hot flashes can occur after childbirth, especially if you are breastfeeding. Breastfeeding blocks estrogen production, putting a person in a state similar to menopause. This is why breastfeeding people may experience symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness.

Hot flashes caused by medication

Some medications list hot flashes as a side effect, including:

  • Antidepressants (drugs for depression and other mental health conditions)
  • Opioids (strong drugs used to relieve pain)
  • Steroids (medicines to treat asthma, arthritis and other forms of inflammation)
  • Osteoporosis drugs (used to treat and prevent brittle bones)
  • Calcium channel blockers (used to treat high blood pressure, angina, and irregular heartbeats)
  • Vasodilators (medicines to treat high blood pressure)

Emotions or anxiety

Heightened states of emotion, nervousness and anxiety can make you feel hot and flushed. You may also experience sweating or a racing heartbeat.

Food and drink

Certain foods and drinks can cause a hot flash, including:

  • Spicy foods
  • Drinks with caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Processed meats like deli meats or hot dogs

How to Treat Hot Flashes

Hot flashes can be treated with lifestyle changes, hormonal therapy, and other medications. Most people should try lifestyle changes first, but if your symptoms are affecting your quality of life or interrupting your sleep, you should talk to your healthcare provider about medications that might help.

Lifestyle adjustments

Lifestyle changes for hot flashes focus on lowering your temperature once they start. They understand:

  • Drink a glass of water or cool juice when you feel a hot flash.
  • Apply a cold compress or an ice pack to your chest or face during the hot flash. If you have night sweats, you may want to keep a cold compress near your bed.
  • Dress in layers so you can remove your clothes when the hot flash begins.

There are also steps you can take to prevent hot flashes by regulating your temperature throughout the day, including:

  • Control stress, which can increase hot flashes.
  • Avoid spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, hot tea, and other foods or beverages that trigger hot flashes.
  • Eat at regular intervals and avoid large meals.
  • Wear breathable fabrics like cotton and use breathable material on your bed.
  • Keep a diary of hot flash triggers to better understand what causes them for you.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy is a medical treatment that replaces estrogen lost during menopause. This helps relieve symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes.

In the past, hormone therapy was considered dangerous and linked to health risks. As of 2017, the North American Menopause Society has asserted that the benefits may outweigh the risks for many people, especially those who begin treatment before age 60.

Whether or not to continue hormone therapy is an individual decision. If you are interested, you should discuss the benefits and risks of this type of treatment with your healthcare provider.

Other drugs

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants, can help treat hot flashes. Some types of these drugs include:

Neurontin (gabapentin), an antiepileptic drug, may also help. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether these are right for you.

Summary

Hot flashes are extremely common, affecting around three-quarters of postmenopausal people. They are mostly harmless, but can interrupt your daily activities and impact your sleep. Lifestyle changes can help control hot flashes, as can medication.

A word from Verywell

How flashes may seem minor, but they can be very disruptive. If you lose sleep due to hot flashes or have other negative effects, discuss treatment options with your health care provider. Hot flashes are temporary, but you deserve to be comfortable while you wait.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How to get rid of hot flashes quickly?

    Drinking cold water or juice at the onset of a hot flash, using a cold compress, and removing layers of clothing are ways to help get rid of hot flashes quickly. Remember that most hot flashes last less than five minutes.

  • What vitamins help with hot flashes?

    Some research indicates that vitamin B9 (folate) can reduce hot flashes. Women have reported success in reducing hot flashes using herbs like black cohosh, but the benefits have not been scientifically proven.

  • What can trigger hot flashes?

    Stress, emotions, and anxiety can trigger hot flashes. The same goes for hot drinks, alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods. Keeping a diary of when your hot flashes occur helps you avoid triggers.

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