Hot Flushes Causes,Symptoms and Remedy
What are Hot Flushes
There may be those of you out there that have never experienced a “hot flush”, lucky you! Perhaps you are married to someone who just turned forty and you want to know what is in store for her or be prepared yourself for what she and you are about to encounter – good for you. Perhaps you are a woman who has had a very uncomfortable occurrence and want to know if what you experienced was indeed a “hot flush”. Well, you have come to the right place; I will try to describe what a hot flush is and what you can do about it.
It’s the classic symptom of menopause: the heat on your face and upper body, sweating, and rapid heartbeat known to menopausal woman everywhere as hot flushes or, the night time version, night sweats. While some women only experience a little warmth, others women’s hot flushes are accompanied by nausea, dizziness, muscle weakness, headaches, and a feeling of anxiety. Some women experience insomnia, others will swear they have more joint pain then they previously experienced. Night sweats are when they wake up during the night drenched in wet, uncomfortable sweat! This of course will seriously disturb her sleep and lead to daytime tiredness.
Many will experience the phenomena known as “hot flushes” which makes them feel flushed, they perspire and feel very warm all in a span of about 30 seconds to several minutes and then it is gone, until the next time it occurs. Just because they’re common, though, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with them. Understanding the causes and treatments for hot flushes and night sweats can help you deal with this uncomfortable symptom.
Not all women experience them, but enough do that it is a very commonly heard phrase for women in their fifties to hear and to utter – “I am having hot flushes!”. Women going through the change of life referred to as “menopause” will experience different symptoms that are linked to the declining hormone levels in their bodies.
The condition is actually caused by a drop in the level of hormones in a woman’s body. The decreased level of hormones somehow affects the hypothalamus, the part of a woman’s brain which regulates such things as sleep, appetite, sex hormones, and body temperature.
When Do They Occur
Hot flushes can actually begin for some women (40% of menstruating women) as early as their forties; approximately 10 years before menopause. Most women (80%) who experience hot flushes will see them end within five years. Unfortunately there are the unlucky 10% who will continue to experience the uncomfortable feeling of hot flushes for 10 years or more.
Who Is Most Likely to Suffer Hot Flushes
Women who have already experienced breast cancer are more prone to having severe hot flushes.
Women who transition faster through peri-menopause than their peers will also experience more severe hot flushes.
Women who have had surgical menopause or who have undergone chemotherapy-induced medical menopause will also be more likely to experience severe hot flushes.
Women who have not been warned about what to expect beforehand and are caught unawares by a sudden hot flush can be frightened by its intensity and may even confuse the episode with that of having a heart attack.
Women who are overweight may experience milder hot flushes than women who are thin. Finally benefits to not looking like a model!
Watch out female smokers, as your blood vessels may not have the same ability to radiate heat as a non-smoking woman and therefore women who smoke are more prone to severe hot flushes.
Symptoms Experienced During a Hot Flush
You’ve heard about them for years. Your mother, grandmother, aunts or neighbor ladies have most likely all offered their personal, and animated, descriptions. When a woman gets close to “the change”, she may expect to experience the dreaded hot flushes (hot flushes). They’re “sneaky”, merciless, unforgiving and indiscriminate. They attack with little or no prior warning (other than your heart feeling as if it’s about to beat through your chest), often at the most inopportune times, and causing affected women to feel flush (reddening of the skin surface), overheated, dizzy, sweaty, and weak.
The physical occurrence goes something like this:
You may first feel a chill, or an “aura” or and uneasy feeling that something is about to happen followed by a sudden and intense, hot feeling that happens on your face, neck and upper body. You may feel your heart race too. You could be sweating profusely or just get beads of perspiration on your upper lip. You may feel dizzy. There may be feelings of anxiety or that you are about to suffocate. You may also experience a headache, or weakness. If you did not experience a chill to herald the episode you may end the hot flush with a chill. This description is what 40% of menstruating women will go through. After the hot flush subsides they may have a reddened face or neck that is visible to everyone and further embarrasses the woman. If the physical symptoms of a hot flush are not uncomfortable enough the fact that everyone looking at her is wondering why she is sweaty and all red will make her feel very uncomfortable indeed.
Hot flushes can happen at night waking you with the uncomfortable chills, feeling of extreme warmth or with the wet clothing or bed sheets from her sweat. These night experiences of hot flushes can cause sleep disturbances that lead to daytime tiredness that may affect her ability to function at home, school or work.
What Causes Hot Flushes
While just about every woman entering menopause knows what a hot flush is, not many can tell you exactly what causes hot flushes. As with most menopause symptoms, hormone fluctuations are the underlying cause, but it’s little more complicated than that.
Because hormone levels have a direct effect on the hypothalamus, part of the brain which controls appetite, sleep cycles, the sex hormones, and body temperature it is little wonder that women experiencing the fluctuating hormones of pre-menopause and menopause have symptoms such as hot flushes. The hypothalamus is after all the body’s “thermostat” and when something is messing with it, then we can expect changes in the way the body perceives the feeling of “being hot” such as women do when having a “hot flush”. Since the brain tries to compensate for the confusing signals the hypothalamus is giving out it sends out a signal to the heart, blood vessels and nervous system to react to what the hypothalamus is doing which is why a woman experiencing hot flushes also feels her heart race, and her skin flush as well as those feelings of nervousness and anxiety. The heart racing, blood vessels of the skin dilating causing flushed skin and the blood vessels circulating more blood which heats up the skin as well as releasing more sweat from your glands are all a result of the brain trying to compensate for what the hypothalamus is doing. The sweat is supposed to cool you off; it is a normal body reaction to being overheated.
Treatment for hot flushes
The good news is that there are plenty of treatments for hot flushes. The place to start is with what you eat and drink. Stay away from caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and spicy foods as much as possible. Decreasing the fat in your diet may also help although the effects are slow to show up. You might also want to try increasing the amount of vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids in your diet by eating more nuts, olive oil, and fish like salmon and trout.
Doctors have traditionally treated the women who experience hot flushes with oral or transdermal (patch) forms of oestrogen to replace the declining levels. This is called hormone therapy (HT) or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or simply postmenopausal hormone therapy (PHT).
The downside to hormone therapy is that women being treated with both oestrogen and progesterone therapy experienced an increase in the risk for heart attack, stroke and breast cancer as compared to women who did not undergo hormone therapy.
Given the risks of hormone therapy each woman who experiences hot flushes and is uncomfortable enough to seek medical help must carefully weigh the benefits of the therapy against the risks. Her decision should be guided by the medical advice of her doctor who can share the latest studies and statistics with her. Her medical history will be a deciding factor as it may influence her particular risk factor.
Women who do decide to use hormone therapy to combat hot flushes should be started out at the lowest possible dosage that will be effective for her to help minimize the risk.
There are alternative medications to hormone therapy they include:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – low does of this class of drug has been shown to decrease the occurrence of hot flushes. Some of the drugs tested to show relief are: Effexor, Paxil, Paxil CR and Prozac.
Clonidine, which decreases blood pressure, also has been shown to relieve hot flushes in some women and not in others.
Megestrol acetate is a type of progesterone female hormone that has been shown to be effective in reducing hot flushes, but can only be used short-term. This drug has resulted in weight gain in women who have tried this therapy.
Gabapentin is moderately effective in treating hot flushes but may cause drowsiness in some women.
Herbs for hot flushes include licorice root, black cohosh, red raspberry leaves, chasteberry (Vitex), spearmint, motherwort.
If adjusting your diet and using herbal remedies doesn’t help, consider a product for hot flushes that includes natural progesterone. Natural progesterone can be used as a means of returning a woman’s body to a natural balance. These products are made from plants and have been shown to help some 80% of women who use them as they act to balance out the hormones progesterone and oestrogen. Besides helping with hot flushes and night sweats, products like these have also been shown to lessen other menopause symptoms like insomnia and loss of libido.By supplementing low levels of progesterone in the body,the natural balance between oestrogen and other hormones is restored, and hot flushes can be reduced or eliminated altogether. There are no side effects to using natural progesterone to treat menopausal symptoms as it is bio-identical to the progesterone produced by the body.