Having hot flashes does not necessarily mean that you have reached menopause. Many other causes apart from the termination of your menstrual cycle can trigger the occurrence of hot flashes. Therefore, understanding the exact cause of your symptoms can really help you in establishing whether you are approaching menopause or not.
You might encounter a feeling related to a hot flash when your body’s temperature rises unconditionally. The use of heated blankets, hot water bottles, or constant exposure to extreme room temperatures, can cause such a disturbing sensation. Your body may feel flushed and awfully warm, mistaking your signs and symptoms for hot flashes. In these cases, consider taking an extremely cool shower to lower your body temperature and restore your normal comfortable condition.
Most women often refer hot flashes as a slithering feeling of extreme warmth that swiftly spreads across the entire body and lasts for quite some time. It can even affect the face and forehead. Others claim that the feeling is comparable to that experienced by someone resting under a hot sun bed, feeling intensively hot like an oven.
Low Estrogen Production
Women who are approaching the menopausal phase may experience an absence of menstrual periods, night sweats, and hot flashes. These menopausal symptoms are attributed to the decreased production of the hormone estrogen in a woman’s body.
The fluctuating levels of this hormone vary for years before a woman reaches menopause. Moreover, when there is a decreased level of estrogen in the body, the hypothalamus in the brain is significantly affected. The hypothalamus is in charge of the production of hormones and regulation of body temperature. The brain reacts to the low levels of estrogen by producing hormones that lower body heat. This reaction causes a rise in the patient’s heart rate and enables the dilation of blood vessels to allow more blood to flow, distributing the heat. Because of this body mechanism, sweat is produced as a way of cooling the body. However, these events may be inconvenient, especially to those who suffer from hot flashes.
Hot Flash Triggers
Unfortunately, the symptoms associated with hot flashes can become persistent during the day and at night. However, certain triggers are known to stimulate the effect. They include wearing jumpers or polo necks, consumption of coffee or alcoholic beverages, stress and anxiety, or taking spicy foods.
When it comes to menopause-related hot flashes, many women learn to cope with it. Nevertheless, if your condition is interfering with your quality of life or if you suspect that your symptoms are not related to menopause, it is imperative that you seek medical advice. Your doctor can assess your hormonal levels and diagnose possible underlying diseases. Your doctor may also prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT), vitamin E supplements, antidepressants or gabapentin. These treatments are normally used to alleviate hot flashes and seizures.
Other Causes of Hot Flashes
Many women undergoing natural menopause encounter hot flashes at one point of their lives. However, numerous other causes of this condition are existent, and they include:
- Prostate cancer treatments - people under prostate cancer medications can sometimes develop hot flashes for several years. Hormone treatment triggers hot flashes in most men by suppressing the volume of testosterone in their body.
- Breast cancer medication - research indicates that seven in every ten women going through breast cancer treatments experience hot flashes, and they even become worse and more recurrent than those people having menopause-related symptoms. Hot flashes occur due to the effect of chemotherapy or tamoxifen tablets, which block the hormonal effects of estrogen.
- Leukemia - is defined as a cancer of the blood. Patients suffering from leukemia tend to have night sweats and hot flashes due to their body’s response to the disease. The body may respond to cancer cells by increasing its internal body temperature. Studies have shown that cancer cells tend to be destroyed by heat.
- Pancreatic tumors – pancreatic cells produce certain hormones to maintain the optimal functions of the body. However, when there are abnormalities present, such in the presence of pancreatic tumors, other hormones are being released that alter the body’s thermostat leading to unusual sweating and hot flashes.
- Carcinoid syndrome – develops when a carcinoid tumor in the lungs or gastrointestinal (GI) tract produces and releases chemicals into your bloodstream causing various symptoms. One of the symptoms of this syndrome is hot flashes. However, unlike menopausal hot flashes that can be triggered by sweating, hot flash symptoms in carcinoid syndrome are not in any way related to sweating. The unpleasant warm sensation felt by individuals with this condition are usually triggered by extreme emotions as well as food and certain beverages (hot or alcoholic drinks).
- Harlequin syndrome – is a rare disease that causes flushing and sweating on one side of the face, neck, and chest. The most common cause of this rare condition is an impaired sympathetic nervous system, which regulates blood pressure, energy, heartbeat, and digestion.
- Frey's syndrome – usually occurs as a complication of a parotid gland surgery. A facial nerve called auriculotemporal nerve is the one that sends signals to the salivary glands to produce saliva when a person eats or thinks about eating. If this nerve is damaged during a parotid surgery, it mistakenly attaches itself to the sweat glands due to the absence of the salivary gland. This mechanism would result into sweating or flushing instead of salivating.
- Thyroid problems – the thyroid is an endocrine gland that is responsible for the body’s metabolic processes, which includes producing hormones that regulate the body’s temperature. When there is an overproduction of thyroid hormones, there is also an increase in the body’s metabolism, resulting in an unusual excessive sweating and episodes of hot flashes.
- Rosacea – is a chronic facial skin disorder that is characterized by persistent redness and facial flushing. This type of skin condition can be seen among menopausal women, which may have frequent flare-ups and remissions.
- Adrenaline rush – any stressful event that may cause a rush of adrenaline in the body can leave a warm feeling like that of a hot flash.
- Stress and anxiety - when you’re under emotional stress or anxiety, your body tends to produce the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones speed up the blood flow, initiating an uncomfortable warm feeling throughout the body. Hot flashes emanate from stress, migraine headaches, and spinal cord lesions. Being frequently stressed and anxious make the affected areas of your body become red and exceedingly warm.
- Spicy foods - pepper has been proven to be another culprit of hot flashes. Foods that are considerably spicy are capable of dilating your blood vessels and stimulating your nerve endings. Such biological modifications create a sensation of extreme heat. For some people, alcohol creates a feeling similar to that caused by hot flashes. Remember, this response can occur at any point in a person’s life.
- Other underlying health conditions – patients who are suffering from HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are also said to experience hot flash symptoms.
Menopausal hot flashes should be differentiated from other types of flushing to rule out more serious health conditions. Be observant when you experience symptoms of hot flashes by taking notes or making a diary. Learn the difference between wet (sweating) and dry flushing. Track your food and drug intake as well as possible triggers. For an easier diagnosis, don’t forget to bring your notes with you when you visit the doctor.