What is a Hot Flash?

Written by Dr. Sima Aidun, N.M.D.

Dr. Sima Aidun is a nationally recognized expert in personalized genetic medicine and a pioneer of the field in Arizona. She obtained her Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree with High Academic Achievement from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences in 2003 and was the recipient of the Daphne Blayden Award. She is certified in Advanced Protocols and New Findings in Nutrigenomic Analysis and Treatment; New Genetic Findings and Enhanced Nutrigenomic Protocols; Nutrigenomic Testing for Inflammation/Auto-Immune | Neurological/Mood Disorders | Methylation/Mitochondria | Women's Health; and Nutrigenomics for Diet and Wellness, Microsampling and Pharmacogenomics.

If you talk to just about any woman who is going or has already gone through menopause, she’ll be able to tell you what a hot flash feels like. Some women can even explain in detail the warning signs of a hot flash; others might know a few triggers that are wise to avoid. But even with all of this information there are a few questions left to be answered. Namely, what is a hot flash, anyway?

A hot flash is one of the most common symptoms of menopause. This is a short-lived experience of intense heat caused by the sudden dilation of the blood vessels closest to the skin’s surface. Our blood vessels naturally dilate to cool us down when we are exposed to heat or exercising, but for women who have hot flashes the experience happens suddenly without a discernible cause.

Symptoms of a hot flash include:

  • Redness in the face
  • Mild to intense perspiration
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Chills

Hot flashes can also develop at night, potentially interrupting sleep. When this happens it is known as a night sweat.

The exact cause of hot flashes is highly debated. A prevailing theory is that hot flashes are caused by irregularities in the hypothalamus, the neurological center for body temperature regulation. The hypothalamus is affected by estrogen reduction, so is at an increased likelihood of developing irregularities as you age thanks to hormone imbalance.

Environmental factors can also increase your risk for having a hot flash, including:

  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary behavior

African-American women are more prone to experience regular hot flashes than are women of European or Asian descent.

What to Do about Hot Flashes

Anti-aging therapies can reduce the severity of hot flashes, but so can making a number of healthy lifestyle changes. If you find that you are experiencing regular hot flashes, do your best to keep cool by:

  • Dressing in layers so that you can easily remove an outer layer should you become too warm. You can also keep a fan at your desk at work in case you need cool air.
  • Avoiding potential trigger foods like caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods.
  • Doing your best to manage stress, as anxiety can increase your heart rate and make you more susceptible to a hot flash.
  • Engaging in regular exercise, but if you find yourself becoming too hot while working out, have a fan or ice water with you to cool down.

Some women adopt helpful lifestyle habits to cope with their hot flashes. Carrying an extra stick of deodorant in your purse, switching to sweat-proof make-up and keeping a few wet-wipes in your desk drawer can help you remain comfortable in spite of a hot flash.

Hot flashes don’t last forever. If you are in the midst of one, take a deep breath, have some cold water and remember it will pass soon.

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