Hot flushes

Hot flushes are one of the most common symptoms of the menopause. They can occur at any time and for this reason alone are considered to be one of the most unpleasant symptoms of the menopause.

Hot flushes are one of several physical signs of the menopause.

What are hot flushes?

These are sensations of intense heat which develops on the neck, face and chest although it can spread to the entire body.

They have a red, patchy appearance and are usually accompanied by sweating and heart palpitations. The skin feels hot to the touch –hence the name ‘hot flushes’.

A hot flush can last from a few seconds through to several minutes and occurs several times a day or week. Some women experience hot flushes on a regular basis, for example every hour whereas others only have a couple of episodes in a week.

Hot flushes occur more often in hot weather or in hot temperatures, for example an overheated environment.

There are two types of hot flushes: the standard hot flush which develops rapidly and the slow ‘ember flush’which is less intense but lasts for longer.

Most women get hot flushes but there are some who escape this symptom of the menopause.

Hot flushes which occur at night are known as night sweats.

How common are hot flushes?

Around 8 out of 10 women experience hot flushes during the menopause. Plus 45 to 50% of these women find these symptoms very difficult to cope with.

(Source: NHS Choices/Menopause)

Men can experience hot flushes which occur as a result of treatment for prostate cancer. This treatment can suppress testosterone levels which results in symptoms more commonly seen in menopausal women.

High risk groups for hot flushes

Hot flushes are more commonly experienced by women who smoke, take little exercise or are under/overweight. They are less likely to be experienced by Chinese women compared to other ethnicities.

Hot flushes are usually associated with the menopause but they can occur in young women who are about to have their menstrual period or even during menstruation.

These types of hot flushes are brief and alternate between hot and cold temperatures.

If you are going through an early or premature menopause then you will experience frequent and more intense hot flushes than someone undergoing a normal menopause.

Triggers for hot flushes

Hot flushes are a sign of the menopause but there are certain foods and/or drinks trigger them. These include:

  • Caffeine, e.g. tea, coffee, cola
  • Spicy foods
  • Hot drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate

Smoking is also a trigger for hot flushes.

It is a good idea to reduce your consumption of these during the menopause to alleviate hot flushes.

Effects of hot flushes

Hot flushes can be distressing. There are women who experience a severe form of these to the extent that they feel faint as a result.

Other problems include sleep disturbances and depression. Repeated episodes of hot flushes often lead to mood swings (due to tiredness), poor memory and difficulties in concentrating.

Treating hot flushes

These are one of several symptoms of the menopause which will disappear after a period of time. But they do impact upon your quality of life and for some women, this is especially noticeable.

So, there are a few things you can do to ease the symptoms of a hot flush. These include avoiding the trigger foods/drinks mentioned above, taking exercise, reducing stress levels, wear light clothing and sleep in a cool bedroom.

There are several forms of medication which can help to control hot flushes. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one option but if you are not suitable for this then consider some of the following alternatives:

  • Clonidine: this medicine was originally developed to treat high blood pressure but can be used to treat hot flushes. Find out more in our menopause treatment section.
  • Antidepressants: one example of these is ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors’ (SSRIs) which can provide relief from hot flushes. Find out more in our menopause treatment section.
  • Gabapentin: this is a medicine which was originally designed to treat epilepsy but has been used to control hot flushes. Find out more in our menopause treatment section.

There are a range of complimentary remedies which have been used by women to treat the symptoms of the menopause. However concerns have been raised about the safety of these products and their reaction with other forms of treatment.

Find out more about this issue in our menopause self help guide.

Your GP will be able to advise you about suitable forms of treatment for your hot flushes.

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