Sweat breaks out on your neck, trickles down your back, you feel your face turn red, sweat starts dripping off you chin and winds up rolling down between your breasts. Did someone turn the thermostat up? No, it’s only 65 degrees in here. What month is this…August? No, it’s still spring. You fan and fan and fan yourself to no avail. Something’s wrong.
Could this be hot flashes? Hot for a moment and then gone: a flash in the pan, an enlightening thought, a lightning bolt…you wish! If you’ve ever had hot flashes you’ll know they can last as long as five minutes and leave you wet, weak, and depleted. Think wet noodle.
Menopause hot flashes
Normally, hot flashes are the precursor to menopause – indicators that your hormone levels are beginning to fluctuate and lessen. But hot flashes can go on interminably. My mother is 85 and still has them, poor woman. You can continue to generate hormones at this decreased level for the rest of your life. You get stuck with a broken thermostat.
According to the Harvard School of Medicine, hot flashes are the main complaint of women in perimenopause and that’s saying something because we all know how much we like to complain about one thing or another! There are the lucky few who never even know they are in perimenopause and never experience a hot flash, ever. I’m red with envy. But they are in the minority. Some women experience a slight hot flush which adds a beautiful blush to their cheeks. Others become purple, embarrassingly dripping wet, dizzy, and so hot they might get burn blisters on their heads. (I really do know someone with scars on her head from hot flashes.) You can often look to your mother for what to expect for yourself. If she had them, you probably will too. So maybe you shouldn’t look! If you’re lucky, your hot flashes will eventually become less frequent and finally fade away.
What causes hot flashes
We are not sure what causes a hot flash. Some research indicates that an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone is the culprit. We know that diminishing and fluctuating estrogen levels are playing hide-and-seek with each other. Yet studies have shown that women with similar estrogen levels can experience completely polar symptoms of hot flashes. Hormone levels are not the only influencing factor.
Scientist Robert R. Freedman, who has studied hot flashes for 25 years at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, talks about a “thermoneutral zone” which varies in humans. Women with a wide or large zone experience fewer or no hot flashes while those with a narrow zone are less adaptable to changes in their core body temperature and are much more likely to experience hot flashes. No one knows why one person has a wide zone while another has a narrow zone. Kind of like why one woman has large hips and another, none. Hysterectomy, medications, cancer treatments, and environmental factors are all influencing factors.
I often experience a hot flash during or after eating or drinking. When I give my body energy (food and alcohol), it creates heat, or during especially emotional moments (while having sex), or times of stress (during an argument). I’ve also noticed that as soon as I get totally horizontal, I get a hot flash. Just sitting up curtails it. Any physical contact with another person is a hot flash waiting to happen. Heat is exponentially created with two bodies. I Love Lucy comes to mind with their two single beds. Did menopause cause the breakup between Desi and Lucy?
And if you smoke. Well, smoking makes hot flashes more intense and more frequent. And it kills you. That should stop your hot flashes!
We’ve got another post on all of the ways to alleviate your hot flashes that you may want to check out. Buy yourself something nice. When the sweat trickles down your chest, you can pull that beautiful hand fan out of your purse, pretend you’re a Geisha, and put menopause at bay for just a few moments. And then here comes a trickle running down your back…