Hot Flashes: Causes and Treatments

Hot flashes are feelings of warmth that spread over the body and last from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Hot flashes are a characteristic symptom of the menopausal transition 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 may be treated by hormone therapy or other medications if necessary.

The exact cause of hot flashes isn't known, but it's likely related to several factors.  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.

 It's not clear why only some women get hot flashes, but we do know that the following factors increase your risk:

·        Smoking. Women who smoke are more likely to get hot flashes.

·        Obesity. A high body mass index is associated with a higher frequency of hot flashes.

·        Physical inactivity. If you don't exercise, you may be more likely to have hot flashes during menopause.

·        Ethnicity. More African-American women report menopausal hot flashes than do women of European descent. Hot flashes are less common in women of Japanese and Chinese descent than in white European women.

Nighttime hot flashes (night sweats) can wake you from sleep and, over time, may cause chronic insomnia. These sleep disturbances can, in turn, eventually lead to memory problems, anxiety, and depression in some women.

The most effective treatment for hot flashes is estrogen. However, the risks and benefits of this therapy must be carefully considered by a woman and her physician. Other prescription medications, including SSRIs and SNRIs, may also be effective in relieving hot flashes. Non-prescription products that have been used to treat hot flashes include phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), black cohosh, and vitamin E. However, studies that attest to their effectiveness and long-term safety are incomplete or lacking.

If you are experiencing hot flashes, discuss it with Dr. Strebel or Dr. Grolle at your next appointment.

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