Sudden and uncomfortable, hot flashes fill the lives of many people at one time or another, causing bouts of intense and inconvenient flushes of heat mixed with soaking sweat. But by understanding the causes of hot flashes and their frequent companion, night sweats, people who experience this can learn to address these nuisances to find some relief and a little more control in their lives.
What Are Hot Flashes?
Typically a hot flash involves a sudden and intense feeling of heat in the face and upper body, lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes. These hot flashes, also known as hot flushes, often come with sudden redness (flushing) in the face, neck or chest, and intense sweating. They are often followed by a cold, clammy feeling, making them feel somewhat like cold sweats. They can occur occasionally or several times a day.
What Causes Hot Flashes?
The exact cause of hot flashes isn’t fully understood, but they are most commonly linked to changing hormone levels, particularly estrogen. Hot flashes are one of the common results of low estrogen that accompanies menopause, and leads to menopause night sweats when they occur at night. During menopause, when most women suffer from hot flashes and menopause night sweats, specific estrogen levels are decreasing, setting the stage for these uncomfortable episodes. However, some women suffer from hot flushes before and after menopause.
Women aren’t the only ones who may experience this sudden, uncomfortable sensation; men can also experience this, which can lead to night sweats in men. The main cause for hot flashes in men is also a drop in hormones, but for men it is related to a drop in testosterone. This mainly occurs in men who are going through treatment for prostate cancer.
Some other possible triggers or causes of hot flashes include:
- Reactions to food, especially spicy or acidic foods
- Thyroid conditions
- Certain types of cancer, including lymphomas
- Medications (as this can be a side effect)
Because these sudden intense feelings of heat can, in rare instances, be a symptom of a more serious condition, they should always be discussed with a doctor.
Night Sweats And Hot Flashes
When hot flashes occur during sleep, they cause night sweats, which soak the sheets and are sometimes accompanied by strong feelings of anxiety. Those who suffer from severe sweating while sleeping, especially if it isn’t accompanied by hot flashes in the waking hours, should check into other possible causes of night sweats. These include stress and anxiety as well as environmental factors such as excessive humidity, overheated rooms, or warm bedding or pajamas.
In some cases, night sweats in women or in men may be an indication of a more serious medical condition, so a health care professional should be consulted in the case of ongoing or unexplained sweating while sleeping.
Coping With These Uncomfortable Flushes
While there isn’t a specific treatment for hot flashes that will magically make these uncomfortable flushes go away or stop them from occurring, there are steps you can take to help reduce the occurrence and severity of them. Different things work for different people so you may need to experiment with a few ideas or treatments.
Certain strategies can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes and night sweats. Anyone suffering from them can benefit from:
- Reducing or eliminating spicy and acidic foods in the diet
- Reducing or eliminating caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol
- Exercising regularly (early in the day is best)
- Addressing causes of stress or anger
- Avoiding hot tubs and hot baths
Here are some other steps you can take to be prepared when an episode occurs:
- Carry a small, portable fan
- Keep ice water handy
- Dress in layers that can easily be removed
- Wear cotton clothing instead of wool or synthetic fabrics
- Wear open-necked tops
- Wear cotton pajamas or nightgowns that can be easily changed if soaked
- Sleep in a large bed if the bed is shared
While there isn’t scientific data to confirm this, some women have found relief from menopause hot flashes through the use of natural remedies for hot flashes. These include things like black cohosh, red clover and phytoestrogens.
Medical Treatments For Hot Flashes
Certain antidepressants may be able to reduce hot flashes in men and women. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is another possible treatment. Men going through treatment for prostate cancer shouldn’t take testosterone, but some have experienced relief by taking a form of estrogen called estradiol. Of course any of these treatments need to be carefully discussed with your doctor and the side effects need to be weighed against the possible benefits.
By gaining a proper diagnosis for the cause of hot flashes, a sufferer can understand the best ways to deal with them. Hot flashes and night sweats may be impossible to eliminate entirely for many people, but by learning how to cope and prepare for them, these episodes need not control a person’s life and the enjoyment of it.