Facing the heat: What’s the cause of your hot flashes?

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By Jennifer Arnhold, GYN, Embrace Women’s Health Clinic in Baxter

 

Soon, the Dog Days of summer will be upon us, when the heat reaches its peak and Minnesotans rush to experience the last freedom of the season.

But with the high temperature can come unexpected, intense waves of bodily heat called hot flashes. These are sudden sensations of warmth due to the widening of the blood vessels near the surface of your skin, most prominent across your face, neck and chest.

Though warm weather can be a cause of hot flashes, it’s only one of many. Here are some others:

Girl with hot flashes has face cooling in front of a fan.

Menopause

When a woman begins to enter menopause, her estrogen levels decrease. It is this decrease that we believe is the cause of menopausal hot flashes.

 

Medications

Hot flashes are a side effect of many common prescription medications, such as opioids or antidepressants. If your symptoms coincide with the start of a new medication, it’s likely that it could be the culprit. Let your provider know. Sometimes, your body can acclimate to the medication, or your provider may be able to switch you to a different drug.

 

Obesity

Women who are overweight have a significantly higher risk of experiencing hot flashes. Extra body fat changes your metabolism, which can promote hot flashes. Losing even 10 pounds can reduce your risk considerably.

 

Food

In particular, spicy food such as red chili, cayenne and hot mustard can raise your body’s temperature, triggering a hot flash. Alcohol and caffeine are also another known cause. Caffeine speeds up your heart rate and makes your blood vessels dilate. However, hot flashes could also trigger if you have an allergy or intolerance to certain foods. Pay attention to how your body reacts when you eat, and you may find the source of your hot flashes.

 

Stress or anxietyStressed girl suffering from hot flashes refreshing with a fan sitting on a couch in the living room at home.

Stress and anxiety can both manifest as a racing heart, fidgeting or shallow breathing. When this happens, your body may respond with a hot flash. A helpful method of easing these feelings is to practice breathing exercises by taking deep, slow breaths.

 

Medical conditions

Hot flashes could be a symptom associated with a number of medical conditions, especially involving your hormones or endocrine system. If a medical condition other than menopause is indeed to blame for your hot flashes, you may experience other symptoms. Talk to your provider if you do.

 

Night sweats

At night, your body temperature naturally fluctuates while you sleep, which is what causes some to wake up sweaty or feeling overheated. This may be a result of sleeping with too many blankets or keeping the room too warm. Instead, make sure your bedroom is cool, and sleep with layers that can be adjusted throughout the night.

 

Smoking

Not only do cigarettes reduce your lung capacity but they are also linked to hot flashes. Women who smoke are significantly more likely to experience intense hot flashes. You may want to consider quitting to lower your risk of hot flashes, as well as other serious health conditions.