Do you soak through your shirt at work or drench your sheets in your sleep? You’re probably experiencing hot flashes, a classic menopause symptom that can strike day or night and last anywhere from just a few seconds to as long as five hot minutes. As your hormone levels change during menopause, feeling overheated, flushed, and sweaty are common symptoms. In fact, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, up to 75 percent of American women have hot flashes during menopause, and 25 percent of those affect will experience hot flashes for five years or more.
Menopause is a part of a woman's normal reproductive cycle, one that signals the end of monthly menstruation and a woman’s fertile years. Fortunately, there are ways to manage and possibly prevent some of the discomfort women face.
Know Your Hot Flash Triggers
Hot flashes and night sweats can be jumpstarted by many triggers and we’ve listed some of the most common triggers:
Eating spicy foods. Spicy foods are a known hot flash trigger — even if you're not menopausal, eating a spicy Mexican meal or hot chicken wings can make you sweat and feel flushed.
Drinking a hot beverage. While enjoying a hot cup of tea may relax you, it also increases your body temperature. That means you're more likely to feel flushed, sweat, and have a hot flash.
Consuming caffeine and alcohol.Caffeine is another known trigger for hot flashes, though exactly how it generates sweating isn't understood. For women looking to prevent or control hot flashes, it's generally recommended that you avoid caffeinated foods and beverages. Women who drink alcohol (even just one glass!) also are more likely to have hot flashes.
Relaxing in a hot bath, hot tub, or sauna. All of these hot, steamy environments make your body's core temperature shoot up, which can trigger a hot flash, sweating, and redness.
Overheating in hot weather or a hot room. When you're menopausal, an average summer day or a room that’s just slightly overheated, crowded, has poor air circulation can trigger a full-on hot flash. Whenever your body heats up, expect the flashing and sweating to strike.
Smoking. Smoking is known to trigger hot flashes and, of course, plenty of other health complications. To manage hot flashes and also improve your overall health, avoid cigarettes and exposure to secondhand smoke.
Anxiety or stressful events. When you’re stressed, your body works hard to sustain high levels of stress hormones. This added demand – especially during menopause – makes it difficult for your body to support other hormonal pathways, such as the neuroendocrine pathways involved in hot flashes.
Let’s talk a little more about stress
Many women don’t realize that stress can be physical or emotional, and that both affect your hormonal balance. For example, poor nutrition is a form of physical stress that’s easily overlooked during hormonal transitions like menopause.
Anxiety and emotional stress commonly top the list of women’s hot flash triggers. Research is now starting to make the connection between emotional stress and hot flashes. Here are two recent examples:
A University of Pennsylvania study of over 400 menopausal women showed a direct correlation between anxiety and the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
An NIH study showed that deep, paced breathing and relaxation exercises done throughout the day significantly decrease frequency and severity of flushing symptoms. Many women don’t breathe this way when they are under stress.
Just remember, one of the highly frustrating things about hot flashes is that they are so unpredictable, so it’s not always possible to identify what sets them off. But being aware of some of these common triggers just might help you manage with a bit more comfort.
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