Hot flashes: symptoms, causes, and more

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on January 10, 2020. Written by Kathryn Wall. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Hot flashes, also known as hot flushes, affect about 3 out of every 4 women going through menopause. Hot flashes usually begin during perimenopause while women are still having their menstrual periods, and can last for up to 14 years following menopause. Menopausal symptoms like hot flashes can often be uncomfortable and unpleasant—and greatly interfere with a woman’s quality of life.

What are hot flashes, and what might they indicate about your health? Knowing about the common causes of hot flashes, hot flashes symptoms, and related health conditions can empower you to take steps that can help reduce your symptoms.


Experiencing hot flashes but aren’t sure if you’re transitioning towards menopause? Take the Everlywell at-home Perimenopause Test to check hormone levels that can help indicate if you’re perimenopausal.


Hot flashes symptoms

Symptoms of hot flashes vary from woman to woman. They can occur at any time of day, and are referred to as “night sweats” when they occur during sleep.

According to Mayo Clinic, during a hot flash you may experience symptoms including:

  • A sudden feeling of warmth or heat in the upper body and face
  • A flushed appearance with red, blotchy skin on the face and neck
  • Red blotches on the arms, chest, and back
  • Heavy sweating or perspiration, mainly on the upper body
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Cold chills following hot flashes

Hot flashes causes

Menopause is not the only cause of hot flashes. Hot flashes can be caused by any one of several factors that increase body temperature.

Common causes and triggers of hot flashes include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Low estrogen levels
  • Certain medications such as opioids, steroids, and antidepressants

Menopause

The most common health conditions related to hot flashes are perimenopause and menopause. Before, during, and after menopause, levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease—altering the levels of other hormones responsible for regulating body temperature. Hot flashes are often accompanied by other menopausal symptoms including irregular menstrual periods, sleep disturbances, low sex drive, mood swings, urinary incontinence, memory problems, and mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of menopause, take an at-home Perimenopause Test to determine if your symptoms indicate that menopause may be near. If you’ve already gone through menopause, take an at-home Postmenopause Test to check your current hormone levels to help determine if it may be time to see your healthcare provider to discuss options for hormone-balancing treatments.

Cardiovascular conditions

Recent scientific evidence suggests that hot flashes may indicate impending heart disease events such as heart attacks and strokes. Women who experience frequent hot flashes earlier in menopause are generally twice as likely to develop heart disease compared to women who experience less frequent hot flashes. If you’re experiencing a high number of hot flashes early in menopause, talk with your healthcare provider to learn more about your heart disease risk.

Stress and anxiety

Stress temporarily increases the body’s production and release of the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine to help the body cope with the stressful event. However, long-term or chronic stress means that the body’s cortisol production remains high, potentially triggering imbalances in other hormones including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Stress and anxiety may induce hot flashes for this very reason.

If you suspect your hormones may be off-balance due to menopause or stress, take an at-home Women’s Health Test to check your levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, and other hormones that may be involved with your symptoms.

Seeking medical care for hot flashes

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing frequent hot flashes that won’t go away, or if hot flashes have become extremely bothersome and are affecting your ability to enjoy life. You may also want to seek medical care for hot flashes if you also experiencing other vasomotor symptoms such as night sweats, anxiety, and heart palpitations.

Your healthcare provider may suggest making a series of healthy lifestyle changes to balance your hormones and reduce hot flashes symptoms, or discuss your options for treatments that can reduce your symptoms. For instance, hormone replacement therapy is widely used to treat hot flashes in women by increasing levels of estrogen and progesterone.

Remedies for hot flashes

While you may not be able to completely stop hot flashes, there are lifestyle changes you can make that may help reduce the frequency or severity of hot flashes, including:

  • Quitting smoking. Quitting cigarette smoking may lower the frequency of hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
  • Exercising regularly. Staying physically active can help regulate hormones and relieve stress to prevent or reduce hot flashes.

Common questions about hot flashes

When do hot flashes start?

Hot flashes usually begin during perimenopause, which typically occurs during a woman’s mid- to late-40s. The average age of menopause for women in the U.S. is 52.


How long do hot flashes last?

The duration of hot flashes varies: most women experience hot flashes for six months to two years while others may last up to 14 years. At this time, there is no reliable way for healthcare providers to determine when hot flashes will start or stop.


What are effective stress-management techniques for reducing hot flashes?

Managing stress can help regulate the body’s levels of hormones like estrogen and reduce the frequency or severity of hot flashes. Effective stress-management techniques include deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, journaling, exercising, and spending time with loved ones.


Changes in hormone levels often cause hot flashes in women. Check in on key hormones related to hot flashes with the at-home Perimenopause Test, Postmenopause Test, Women's Fertility Test, or the comprehensive Women’s Health Test.


References

1. Hot flashes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

2. Hot Flashes: What Can I Do? National Institutes of Health. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

3. Menopause symptoms and relief. womenshealth.gov. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

4. Thurston RC, Johnson BD, Shufelt CL, et al. Menopausal symptoms and cardiovascular disease mortality in the Women's Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE). Menopause. 2017;24(2):126–132. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000000731

5. Hot Flashes. StatPearls. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

7. Menopause basics. womenshealth.gov. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

8. Freeman EW, Sammel MD, Lin H, et al. Duration of menopausal hot flushes and associated risk factors. Obstet Gynecol. 2011;117(5):1095–1104. doi:10.1097/AOG.0b013e318214f0de

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