Guest Author - Dr. Denise Howard
“Hot flash” is the term used to describe the sudden onset of warmth or heat, which starts in the chest and spreads to the neck and face. Sweating, redness, palpitations and anxiety usually accompany this symptom. They are problematic because they are recurrent, happening many times in a day. Another term used to describe these events is “vasomotor symptoms”. Night sweats are also apart of this symptom complex. These symptoms typically are associated with menopause but can also occur in premenopausal women and women who are post partum.
A hot flash occurs when the core body temperature suddenly increases to a level that is above a certain set threshold. Above this threshold sweating occurs and below this threshold shivering occurs. There is a temperature range that is considered to be normal and no such symptoms occur. This “neutral zone” is postulated to be much smaller in women who experience hot flashes. Thus small changes in the core body temperature would precipitate sweating in a menopausal woman but in a non-menopausal woman the same change would be within the neutral zone and a hot flash would not occur. The narrowing of this neutral zone is triggered by a sudden decrease in circulating estrogen levels. Estrogen and testosterone affects natural endorphins, which in turn regulates core body temperature.
Hot flashes occur in 75% of postmenopausal women and are the most common complaint in women transitioning to menopause. The symptoms are not life threatening but can be distressing and disruptive. They can affect work, social interactions and interfere with sleep. They reportedly occur 1-2 years before menopause and persist up to 5 years after menopause. Many women in their 40’s report experiencing this phenomenon.
Women who have their ovaries surgically removed will also experience vasomotor symptoms. In many cases they are more severe than in women who go through a natural menopause. Immediately after delivery, there is a sudden drop in circulating estrogen levels. It is therefore not surprising that postpartum women experience hot flashes as well. Women taking tamoxifen for breast cancer also suffer with vasomotor symptoms due to the anti-estrogenic effect of this drug. Men who receive certain treatments for prostate cancer that affects androgen production also experience hot flashes.
Vasomotor symptoms associated with menopause can be quite disturbing. Some women have mild symptoms or no symptoms and do not require treatment but for others the occurrence of these flashes maybe very disruptive. Hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms might become intolerable and treatment is therefore indicated to allow normal functioning. It is important to discuss these symptoms with your doctor, who can then prescribe a treatment regimen that is right for you.
I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:
Live healthy, live well and live long!