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Hot Flashes

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Definition

Hot flashes are a sudden feeling of heat in the body followed by a chill and breaking out in a cold sweat. Hot flashes are a characteristic symptom of menopause.

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Causes

  • The most common cause of hot flashes in women are reduced estrogen in the body e.g. menopause. When there is reduced level of estrogen in the body, the part of the brain that regulates temperature and sweating, responds to even slightest rise in temperature. This causes increased blood flow to the skin (hot flashes) followed by sweating. There is no actual rise in body temperature.
  • This phenomenon has also been observed in men during a phase of life called andropause. In this situation, the hot flashes can be attributed to a declining levels of testosterone (male hormone).
  • Fever or raised body temperature due to external sources of heat can also cause hot flashes.

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Implications

Hot flashes can make an otherwise healthy person quite miserable as they come on suddenly, sometimes in the middle of the night and can wake you up from your sleep. The female hormone, estrogen, is a neurotransmitter. When a women lacks estrogen, the hypothalamus in her brain goes haywire. It thinks that every time her temperature rises, that she has a fever and it uses its opening of blood vessels in the skin and sweating to cool her down.

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What You Can Do

  • To prevent hot flashes avoid the substances in the list below as they have been implicated to trigger them:
    • Stress
    • Caffeine
    • Alcohol
    • Spicy foods
    • Tight clothing
    • Heat
    • Cigarette smoke
  • General Measures
    • Keep your bedroom cool and well ventilated especially at night. Wear light layers of sleep wear clothes.
    • Practice deep and slow (6-8 breaths per minute) abdominal breathing in the morning, evening and at the onset of hot flashes.
    • Get plenty of exercise like walking, swimming and bicycling on a daily basis.
  • Estrogen can help alleviate this problem. However, research studies have demonstrated that estrogen increases a woman's risk for breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes.
  • Natural substances like licorice, dang gui, hops and blue cohosh bind to estrogen receptors on cells and help control hot flushes.
  • Diet that is high in phytoestrogens, such as sweet potatoes, whole grains, flax seeds, wheat berries, soy beans, soy milk and tofu are beneficial for women experiencing hot flashes.
  • Botanicals and herbs
    • Plant estrogens, such as isoflavones, are thought to have weak estrogen-like effects that may reduce hot flashes. Isoflavones are also found in soy foods as well as whole grains and beans.
    • Black cohosh may be helpful for treating hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness.
    • Evening primrose oil is another botanical that is often used to treat hot flashes.
    • Flaxseed also known as linseed, is available in both whole seed and seed oil forms.

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Hot Flashes