Most people associate hot flashes with menopause. Up to 75% of women get them in their menopause transition, with a quarter of those experiencing severe enough symptoms to seek help from their doctor. Despite the shared awareness of hot flashes, we still do not know enough about them. While health experts and researchers are working to better understand how hot flashes develop, some initial clues may help.
Someone Left the Thermoregulation Button On
Our bodies have a built-in cooling system (thermoregulation) when it senses it’s getting too hot. The process includes:
- It first begins by sweating. As the sweat dries, it also carries the heat away from your body’s surface, thus lowering your temperature.
- The second way the body cools itself is by making the blood vessels under your skin wider. This process increases blood flow to the skin, which is cooler, and away from the inner body, which is warmer. The warmer blood moving from the inner body to the skin creates a warm sensation and a “flushed” look.
In a hot flash, the mechanisms are generally the same, but that’s where a lot of the similarities end. With hot flashes, the temperature regulation center thinks the body is overheated, even when it’s not. As a result, the cool-down process randomly occurs day or night. The frequency, severity, and duration vary for each woman. Some women have the occasional hot flash and are never bothered by them. Others experience more severe, frequent hot flashes at all hours, even while sleeping, to the point it affects their daily lives.
Hypothalamus Changes and Other Hot Flash Causes
The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulates temperature and triggers the chain of events that cool the body down. Therefore, hot flashes are thought to result from changes in the hypothalamus that throw off normal regulation. In addition, other medical conditions and medication side effects can cause hot flashes too. Examples include:
- Thyroid disease
- Drug therapies such as:
- Tamoxifen, a breast cancer treatment
- Raloxifene, which is used to treat osteoporosis
- Antidepressants can produce them as well, but can also be an effective treatment for some women as well
If your hot flashes are bothersome, are accompanied by other unusual symptoms, or if it’s unlikely that menopause is causing them, consult your doctor immediately.
Hot Flash Symptoms Can Vary. So Should Available Treatments
Before considering medications, making specific lifestyle changes is often helpful in managing symptoms better. Lower the temperature before bed, dress in layers and avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine are examples you can try. If symptoms persist, there are hormonal and nonhormonal treatments available. Your doctor can discuss the safest, most effective options for you.
There are several ways to treat hot flashes. Still, with each woman’s hot flash experience a unique one, effective relief continues to elude some. Ongoing clinical research and trials work to close the gap, and potential new hot flash treatment options are under evaluation in clinical research studies.
To learn more about the hot flash studies enrolling here at Seattle Clinical Research Center, call (206) 522-3330 or visit our website.