Some say hot flushes, and others say hot flashes... but what exactly are these funny episodes?
A menopause hot flash...
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...is experienced differently by different women.
...can set off a cascade of other feelings, sensations and emotions.
...has been the inspiration of poetry, art and music. The creative potential of a hot flushing woman should not be underestimated!
...can be brought on by stress, emotions, foods, drinks and anxious thoughts.
...may be worse in women who drink alcohol every day, in smokers and the physically inactive.
... can be worse if you are overweight.
... is of varying severity, intensity, frequency and duration in the same woman and between women. They usually subside gradually after the menopause but may last for months or years.
...at night cause night sweats. These can be disturbing enough to cause sleep loss.
What is known about the causes of hot flashes?
...clearly have a biological explanation, but … er … nobody knows exactly what it is.
...are thought to be associated with reductions in oestrogen levels as well as fluctuation in other hormones. But no-one has been able to demonstrate a direct causal relationship between hormone levels and hot flushing.
...never occur in pre-adolescent girls, who also have low oestrogen levels. Priming of the body with higher oestrogen levels is therefore thought to be necessary to bring them on.
..do not just occur in menopausal women. They can occur whenever there is a rapid drop in oestrogen – after surgical removal of the ovaries, following childbirth and in some premenopausal women just before menstruation.
...involve upset in the normal thermostatic control in the brain (hypothalamus). There seems to be abnormal sensitivity to small temperature changes involving complex chemical pathways in the brain. But nobody has got to grips with the exact mechanisms yet.
Hot flashes and flushes are...
..a big mystery that nobody really understands.
...emblematic of the woman at menopause. Although they can occur in premenopausal women, they occur much more commonly during the menopausal transition and into the postmenopausal years.
...are experienced as a sudden wave of extreme heat that sweeps through the body, sometimes causing profuse sweating.
Hot episodes are known as hot flashes or flushes. In common use in North America is flashes and in the UK is flushes. Strictly there is a difference – a flush means the sensation of heat, whereas the flash refers to the sweating sometimes followed by a chill. But basically the two words are interchangeable, hot flash or flush, you take your pick. Here on Natural Menopause Journey both words are used to mean the same hot sensation.
What doctors say about perimenopause hot flashes...
Medics refer to flushes and night sweats as asomotor symptoms or vasomotor dysfunction.
A hot flushing woman can be detected by those close to her – by her colour, sweating and the heat that can be felt. Each flush usually lasts less than 5 minutes.
The heat of the flush can be detected and measured by skin conductance tests. But objective measures of flushes often do not correspond to subjective experience: a woman may feel a flush which is undetectable with the machine, and the machine may detect a flush which the woman doesn’t feel.
Up to 50% of women in Western cultures may experience flushes during perimenopause and postmenopause. They may resolve quickly or may persist for several years after the last period.
Who gets hot flash symptoms? - click to read more.
Hot Flashes Bibliography
Lock M. Menopause: lessons from anthropology. Psychosom Med. 1998 Aug;60(4):410-419.
Melby MK, Lock M, Kaufert P. Culture and symptom reporting at menopause. Hum.Reprod.Update. 2005 Oct;11(5):495-512.
NIH State-of-the-Science Conference Statement on management of menopause-related symptoms. NIH Consens State Sci Statements. 2005 Mar 21;22(1):1-38.
Nelson HD. Menopause. Lancet. 2008 Mar 1;371(9614):760-770.
Regestein QR. Hot flashes, sleep, and mood. Menopause. 2010 Feb;17(1):16-18.
Sievert LL. Menopause: a biocultural perspective. Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2006.
Smith MJ. et al. Men and women's perceptions of hot flushes within social situations: Are menopausal women's negative beliefs valid? Maturitas 2011;69:57-62.
Sturdee DW. The menopausal hot flush--anything new? Maturitas. 2008 May 20;60(1):42-49.
Walker ML, Herndon JG. Menopause in nonhuman primates? Biol. Reprod.2008 Sep;79(3):398-406.
Published February 2010. Updated 5/5/2011
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