What is a Hot Flash and How Can I Minimize Them?

For years before I ever experienced my first hot flash, I heard women friends complain about them. Sometimes I could actually see the onset of a friend’s hot flash as I’d be speaking with her. Her face would begin to redden; a light line of sweat would break out across her upper lip or across her brow, frequently followed by her ardently fanning to cool herself down.

As I entered my fifties, still without having had my first hot flash, I began to wonder whether I’d miraculously be exempted from these horrible and sudden flushes. Then one day, out of the clear blue, my first hot flash hit. It didn’t dawn on me at first what was happening, but as my skin became clammy and it seemed as if the heat had been turned up a few degrees, I realized what was happening.

It’s little comfort to know that 80% of all women experience hot flashes when they go through menopause. Typically a woman’s ovaries stop producing estrogen around the age of 50, causing her hormone levels to drop rapidly. This causes her internal thermostat to go berserk, leaving her susceptible to the blood vessels on her skin’s surface suddenly dilating and engulfing her in a feeling of intense heat.

In addition to the changes in estrogen levels, it also appears that hot flashes can be stimulated by a brain chemical called norepinephrine, which is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating the temperature center in the brain.  By practicing stress reducing techniques such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing you can help lower levels of norepinephrine, which can minimize the effects or severity of hot flashes.

I describe hot flashes as an almost instantaneous eruption of heat from certain parts of my body. It literally feels like someone has stuck me under a heat lamp. Typically the heat races across my chest or back, up my neck and across my face and scalp. When I touch the top of my head, seconds after a hot flash has begun, I can literally feel heat pouring off!

For most women, hot flashes seem to come on virtually from out of nowhere! But over the years I’ve found that certain things will actually trigger or exacerbate a hot flash. I’ve learned to pay strict attention to what I eat or drink and also to my thoughts. I avoid drinking anything with caffeine, red wine, hot beverages and spicy foods when I’m out at events. And I do my best to stay as Zen as possible in my conversations, especially when I’m at a social gathering, running a meeting or speaking in public. Generally, beware of emotionally charged conversations when you need to stay cool!

For me, the quickest way to “turn down the heat” and minimize a hot flash is to increase air flow or change the temperature of the surrounding air. I may excuse myself and step outside if the air temperature is cooler – or reverse that strategy in the summer and go into air conditioning for a moment to squelch the fire. Gently fanning to increase air flow around my face and neck frequently helps, and may be an option if it’s not too obvious or disconcerting. But too vigorous movements may increase the effects of the hot flash, so watch not to over-exert.

Studies have shown that menopausal women actually experience fewer and milder hot flashes in cooler than warmer rooms. So keep the temperature down, the air conditioning on, a window open or a ceiling fan going and you’ll have fewer episodes. There are even handy mini-fans that can be purchased and stashed in your purse or desk drawer at work for emergency cool-downs.

Having a cold beverage handy and regularly sipping on it, or even taking a gulp or two if a bad hot flash starts, also works well, as it cools your internal body temperature. And holding an icy cold glass against your wrist, right at the pulse point, can help to cool your blood.

Vitamin E has also been shown to relieve the frequency and severity of hot flashes. Be sure to eat more vitamin E-rich foods such as wheat germ, safflower oil, whole-grain breads and cereals, peanuts, walnuts, almonds. There are also many herbal products on the market today that may help to reduce hot flashes, too. Some of the more common ones are sarsaparilla, dong quoi, black cohosh, false unicorn root, fennel and anise. But before taking any herbal formulas, talk with your doctor, pharmacist or a qualified herbalist or acupuncturist to be sure you don’t make things worse!

Hot flashes often disturb a woman’s sleep and can be quite unpleasant due to the sweating that occurs.  Waking up in the throes of a major hot flash can leave one drenched and in need of a change of clothes. Wearing pajamas made from natural fibers which breathe helps to release the heat more quickly when a hot flash strikes and bed clothes which are made specifically to wick away moisture are a worthwhile investment for the menopausal woman.

For me, too, sleeping on my stomach will encourage a hot flash, as it seems to trap the heat from my body against the mattress more so than if I sleep on my side or back. When I was a younger woman, I was always cold and often slept in layers and even wore socks to bed during the winter months! Nowadays, less is definitely more! I like my feet bare, a light cover – if any at all – and sleeveless tops. And I’d be lost without my ceiling fan going most nights! Besides, I find the whirring sound soothes me, too!

And increasing our physical activity is another proven way to reduce hot flashes. Yes, exercise increases the levels of endorphins, hormones which affect our body’s temperature regulation center. So getting regular exercise can have a beneficial effect on a woman’s hot flashes, too!

As much of a challenge as menopause hot flashes are, they do not have to become the bane of our existence for the entire decade it takes for the average women to complete the journey to menopause. Since menopause is unavoidable, and living a long and healthy life is certainly desirable, it makes sense to be as proactive as possible in managing this common side-effect. Hot flashes can be annoying, but they don’t have to become life-limiting!

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site