May 29, 2017
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Hot Flashes

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Hot flash definition and facts

  • Hot flashes are feelings of warmth that spread over the body and last from 30 seconds to a few minutes.
  • Hot flashes may be accompanied by redness of the skin, known as flushing, and excessive sweating.
  • Hot flashes are a characteristic symptom of the menopausal transition (perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause) in women, but may occasionally result from other medical conditions.
  • About 70% of women will experience hot flashes at some point in the menopausal transition.
  • Hot flashes in men, young women, or during pregnancy may be due to medical conditions that interfere with the body’s ability regulate temperature.
  • Hot flashes may be treated by hormone therapy or other medications if necessary.
  • Natural home remedies for hot flashes have been proposed and may provide relief for some women; the effectiveness of other alternative treatments has not been adequately scientifically evaluated.

What are hot flashes?

A hot flash is a feeling of warmth that spreads over the body, which often begins in the head and neck regions. Hot flashes are a common symptom experienced by women prior to, and during the early stages of the menopausal transition. However, not all women approaching the menopause will develop hot flashes.

How long do hot flashes last?

Hot flashes are typically brief, lasting from about 30 seconds to a few minutes.

The question of how long during a woman's lifetime that hot flashes last is a different one. Traditionally, it was believed that women only experienced hot flashes for a few years. More recent data suggest that many women may experience hot flashes for longer time periods. In a study from the University of Pennsylvania, the mean duration of hot flashes was 4.9 years, but up to a third of women continued to have hot flashes for up to 10 years. In the Study of Women Across the Nation (SWAN), women had hot flashes for an average of 7.4 years total and for an average of 4.5 years after the last menstrual period.

What causes hot flashes?

The complex hormonal changes that accompany the aging process, in particular the declining levels of estrogen as a woman approaches menopause, are thought to be the underlying cause of hot flashes. A disorder in thermoregulation (methods the body uses to control and regulate body temperature) is responsible for the heat sensation, but the exact way in which the changing hormone levels affect thermoregulation is not fully understood.

Hot flashes are considered to be a characteristic symptom of the menopausal transition. They also occur in men and in circumstances other than the perimenopause in women (such as young women or during pregnancy) as a result of certain uncommon medical conditions that affect the process of thermoregulation. For example, the carcinoid syndrome, which results from a type of endocrine tumor that secretes large amounts of the hormone serotonin can cause hot flashes. Hot flashes can also develop as a side effect of some medications and sometimes occur with severe infections or cancers that may be associated with fevers and/or night sweats.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/6/2016


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