Hot flashes

Hot flashes
February 10, 2013 at 1:03 AM

Lots of postmenopausal women experience hot flashes, which manifest themselves as heat spreading to upper limbs and face. This symptom affects mainly postmenopausal women as it is closely connected to hormones but in some cases it may also be caused by various other conditions.

Causes of hot flashes 

Menopause – Women whose monthly cycle is about to end go through complex hormonal changes. Their body stops producing estrogens, which are hormones responsible for regulation of menstrual cycle. In menopausal women, menstrual cycle stops, which leads to various disagreeable symptoms, such as breast tenderness or hot flashes. This is why the majority of postmenopausal women suffer from hot flashes. 

Eating habits – Some food can cause hot flashes. This symptom is most frequently caused by food containing herbal alkaloid capsaicin, such as paprika, green pepper or chilli. Capsaicin has vasodilating effects and broadens the blood vessels in the face, which leads to hot flashes and red face. In sensitive individuals capsaicin may even cause an allergic reaction.

Temperature and fever – Higher ambient temperatures have vasodilating effects and can cause hot flashes. The same goes for fever.

Overactive thyroid – Thyroid gland produces growth hormones. If the body makes more growth hormones than necessary hot flashes may occur.

Stress – Anxiety and stress may cause hot flashes. In this case this symptom is usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as diarrhea or palpitation.

Cancer – Some types of cancers, such as carcinoid, may cause hot flashes. In this case hot flashes are accompanied by cough, palpitation and other symptoms.

Diagnosis and treatment of hot flashes

It is not easy to diagnose hot flashes. Your physician will ask you about your family anamnesis and about particular situations which lead to hot flashes. He or she will also take your blood to check the concentration of growth hormones and see whether your condition is related to overactive thyroid or not. 

Treatment of hot flashes actually depends on the primary cause of your symptoms. If they are related to menopause your doctor may give you a prescription for some hormone therapy, which will provide your body the missing hormones and will hopefully ease your flashes. Unfortunately it is not possible to be on a hormone therapy for long time as in postmenopausal women hormones may increase the risk of breast cancer. Luckily menopause related hot flashes tend to be a temporary problem and your body will eventually deal with the problem on its own. 

If hot flashes are a result of overactive thyroid the treatmentis based on normalization of growth hormone levels. 

For hot flashes being a result of food the general advice is to avoid food, which causes them (e.g. chilli, peppers, etc.). 

To ease the symptoms you may also drink sage or milfoil tea. 

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Physician
Published: February 10, 2013 at 1:03 AM
Next scheduled update: February 10, 2015 at 1:03 AM
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