A hot flash is a sudden sensation of intense body heat, often with profuse sweating and reddening of the head, neck, and chest. These symptoms can occur with mild to severe heart palpitations, anxiety, irritability and, rarely, panic. Hot flashes are the most common symptom of a woman's changing estrogen levels around the time of her last menstrual period (menopause).
The biochemical cause of hot flashes is not well understood. Hot flashes are more common at night than during the day and are a common cause of sleep problems for perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.
While some women will never experience hot flashes, others begin having them in their 30s. Hot flashes are most frequent and intense during the first 2 years of postmenopause, when estrogen levels have dropped below a certain point. Sleep patterns usually improve within 6 to 12 months after hot flashes begin.
Tips for managing hot flashes
- Dress in layers, so you can remove clothes as needed.
- Wear natural fabrics, such as cotton and silk.
- Keep the room temperature cool or use a fan. You're more likely to have a hot flash in a warm environment than in a cool one.
- Sleep with fewer blankets.
- Drink cold beverages rather than hot ones.
- Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals to avoid the heat generated by digesting large amounts of food.
- Do not smoke.
- Use relaxation techniques, such as breathing-for-relaxation exercises or meditation, yoga, and biofeedback.
Current as of: November 8, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Carla J. Herman MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine