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Hot flashes refer to a sudden increase in body temperature. One can feel the heat rising in their cheeks, ears, neck, and chest. Hot flashes at night are called night sweats.
For women experiencing hot flashes, menopause is the most probable reason. However, exposure to excess alcohol intake, tobacco smoke and spicy food can also cause hot flashes and night sweats.
Hot flash and night sweat treatment options include a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and hormone therapy for those eligible for it. Please consult a specialist before resorting to any medication.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats: How Do They Affect People?
Hot flashes are vasomotor symptoms, common among menstruating women, those transitioning into menopause, cancer survivors and those undergoing radiotherapy or chemotherapy, or those who are exposed to excess smoke or resort to too much alcohol. (1) (2) Night sweats are hot flashes that occur overnight or during sleep. Hot flashes and night sweats can be a daily phenomenon or momentary bouts for many.
Hot flashes are defined as sudden bursts of heat generated around the skin, in the face, neck, shoulders, and chest. Hot flashes can leave the skin looking red and feeling irritated for some time, ranging anywhere between thirty seconds to five minutes. (3)
Hot flashes can be mild (momentary bouts of heat occurring once in a while in a day causing mild distractions in activities), moderate (uncomfortable heat causing sweating, lasting up to minutes, occurring regularly for days and affecting concentration) and severe (lasting significantly longer, making one feel dizzy, drenched with sweat, and frequently disturbing sleep cycles and affecting daily chores, among 10-15% women).(4)
Hot Flashes in Women
Hot flashes in women can occur any time in their twenties, thirties, or forties, depending on their commencement or cessation of menstrual cycles, among other health conditions. (3)(5)Menstrual health indicators like severe night sweats early on in life can also highlight ovarian dysfunctionality.
Many women complain of hot flashes during their menstruating ages, especially during their pre-menstrual syndromes (PMS). (6) It is completely okay for women to have menopause-like hot flashes during periods in their 20s and 30s. Apart from night sweats, women also complain of fluctuating mood and irritation, during PMS and pregnancies due to hormonal imbalance.
Menopause hot flashes are common among women in their mid-forties and last for seven to ten years, with variations among different ethnicities as well. (2) (7) Hot flashes and night sweats in women are more bothersome among African-Americans, and less bothersome among Hispanics, when compared to Caucasians. 75% of women complain of hot flashes during menopause in the United States, albeit with different triggers and causes. Hot flashes after menopause are rare, but possible nonetheless depending on the body’s hormonal regulation.
It is important to note that hot flashes and night sweats apply to individuals belonging to the third gender or those who have undergone gender transformation surgeries as well, owing to significant hormonal changes in the body.(8)
Which Factors Trigger Hot Flashes?
Though the exact reason for night sweats are unknown, changes in the brain’s thermoregulatory centres (hypothalamus) controlling heat production and loss are often attributed to hot flashes. There is mixed evidence on how hormonal imbalance also leads to hot flashes and night sweats in menopausal women. (9) Lifestyle habits, alcohol and medical procedures are also known to cause night sweats.
- Alcohol consumption and withdrawal from alcohol addiction, both have been linked to night sweats and hot flashes. (10)This can worsen for women in their perimenopausal or menopausal phase. However, these studies also imply that such (alcohol-induced) hot flashes are directly related to a reduction in sex steroid hormone levels
Caffeinated beverage consumption has also been positively linked to postmenopausal heat flashes in women.(11) This is a reason why menopausal women are advised to stay away from coffee and other caffeinated beverages. (3) Caffeine causes dilation of blood vessels and thus increases body temperature. Hence, women already in their menopausal or postmenopausal phase need to keep an eye out for excess caffeine intake.
- Food habits pertaining to excess consumption of spicy and hot food items, especially those containing chilli-peppers, are known to lead to hot flashes. It is no surprise that everyone faces it when eating food rich in spices. Flushed cheeks, watery eyes, and running noses spare none!
Smoking alongside alcohol consumption has been directly correlated to hot flashes and night sweats. (12) Smoking is specifically correlated to higher androgen and lower progesterone levels in the body.
- Clothing styles and materials too, make a difference. While tight, body-hugging clothing can generate body heat, breathable fabrics like spandex, polyester and nylon prevent heat from escaping the body, also contributing to heat flashes in many.
Stress and mental health issues lead to increased heart rate, and dilation of blood vessels and thus activate sweat glands to reduce body heat. Most women undergoing menopause are likely to report stress and hot flashes. (13)
- Bending over albeit uncommon, can also lead to hot flashes in women. The reason behind this is an increase in blood pressure. Hence people with conditions like hypertension and paroxysmal positional vertigo can experience hot flashes more frequently than others. Moreover, people with excess subcutaneous fat or adiposity are even more prone to hot flashes and night sweats. (4) (14)
Hot and humid surroundings can lead to overheating of the body in general, especially for people prone to any of the aforementioned trigger.
Is There A way to Prevent Hot Flashes?
Before jumping to any conclusions about one’s body, there are certain lifestyle changes everyone can make to reduce hot flashes and improve overall health.(2) It is extremely important to consult a professional before resorting to any medication or hormone therapy.
Simple changes include,
- Wearing loose, comfortable, cotton-based clothing to ensure proper ventilation; layering clothing is also a great way to beat the heat when necessary
- Exercising and meditating to keep a check on adiposity and maintain a healthy body-mass index; they help in not only reducing night sweats but also in ensuring overall health and reduce stress
- Abstaining from smoking, alcohol, and monitoring their intake of caffeine and food rich in spices
Hypnotherapy and mindfulness meditation can also help in certain cases (to be only availed on expert opinions) (15)
- Hydrating adequately helps keeping body temperature in check
- Keeping ambient temperatures cool, avoiding excess heat in surroundings
- Alternative therapy like acupuncture works for selective people
Medications For Hot Flashes Treatment
Patients who have previously been diagnosed with conditions like cardiovascular disorders, blood clotting issues, stroke, dementia, gallbladder issues, or certain forms of cancer tend to receive nonhormonal medication. Additionally, women suffering from menopause hot flashes beyond a certain age have been shown to be more prone to stroke, heart attacks, breast cancer, and dementia upon undergoing hormone replacement therapy (estrogen and progesterone). Hence nonhormonal medication is most preferred in cases of elderly women seeking hot flash treatment. (4)
Commonly prescribed medications include paroxetine (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant) and fezolinetant (a neurokinin 3 (NK3) inhibitor to regulate the parts of the brain responsible for thermostability). Some doctors also prescribe citalopram, escitalopram, and venlafaxine. However, any medication is to be taken, only if prescribed by a specialist. Self-medication should be strictly averted.
Supplements for Hot Flashes
Supplements like vitamin E, black cohosh, soy isoflavones, flaxseed, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) are not scientifically proven yet for hot flash treatment. (2)There is mixed evidence and hence resorting to such supplements is only advised after personalized, professional guidance.
Hormone Therapy For Night Sweat Treatment
Hormone therapy is targeted at boosting low hormone levels for patients who are eligible for them, especially for women experiencing menopause. It is meant to steady the levels of estrogen and progesterone secretion in the body.
Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) for Hot Flashes
BHRT refers to plant-derived and laboratory-derived hormones used to manage conditions like menopause, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, and fibromyalgia. The most replicated hormones are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, and they are available in different formulations like pills, creams, patches, or rings. (16)
BHRT is under considerable research in the current times and hence has lesser evidences as compared to traditional hormone therapies. It is a budding field nonetheless. (17) The FDA approved the first bioidentical estradiol and progesterone capsules for menopausal women in 2017. (18)
BHRT is a topic under extensive research and not all forms are FDA-approved or proven to have beneficial results and their long-term safety is still a topic of debate. BHRT is to be taken only when advised specifically by an endocrinologist or a consulting specialist, only after a thorough risk-assessment analysis has been conducted.
Q. How to know if I am having hot flashes?
A. You just know it! You will have red, flushed cheeks, feel warm in the face, neck, and chest, and continue to feel uncomfortable for some time. It may last for a few seconds or a few minutes.
Q. Do hot flashes go on their own?
A. Hot flashes during periods in 20s, 30s, go away almost immediately, and will not be a bother. However, hot flashes during menopause are more persistent and stay for 5-10 years.
Q. Are women more prone to hot flashes than men?
A. Women are more prone to have varying hormonal levels throughout menopause because of the physiology of the uterus and changing hormone levels. This is the primary reason for night sweats in women and almost every woman will complain about it at some point in life.