Menopause And Hot Flashes


air conditioner unit in window

Air conditioner unit in window

( — “It’s getting hot in here.” No, I’m not reciting the lyrics of an extremely popular musician. I’m reciting the sentiments of numerous menopausal and pre-menopausal women. Hot flashes overheat three out of every four menopausal women. Marked by a sudden and intense heat that rises from the abdomen to the head, hot flashes are frequently associated with insomnia and heart palpitations.

What causes heat flashes? Hot flashes are a result of your body’s thermostat at work. Hot flashes are attributed to decreased production of the hormone estrogen. According to Dr. Joseph Sanfilippo, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, “There is a thermoregulatory center in the brain which wants to maintain your 98.6-degree body temperature. The brain has estrogen receptors, and for all these years estrogen has been a component in maintaining a normal temperature. When the estrogen levels begin to drop, this delicately balanced, estrogen-sensitive brain triggers a response to increase the body’s temperature.”

Don’t jump the gun by blaming all hot flashes on menopause. Hot flashes may be symptomatic of other conditions. Tell your doctor when you first experience hot flashes. Though far less common, there are other conditions that may result in a rush of heat to the body and face. In women, symptoms of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can equate with hot flashes, as well as symptoms of carcinoid syndrome. The National Women’s Health Information Center also points out that hot flashes, including sweating, palpitations and anxiety, are common side effects in women receiving chemotherapy or hormone therapy for breast cancer. A flushed sensation with increased heat to the face and head can also be a physiological result of acute stress.

Hot flashes are not something you have to live with. If they are extremely bothersome there are treatments that can subdue them. “The best treatment for hot flashes is estrogen replacement—period, bar none,” states Dr. Sanfilippo. “There are many studies from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supporting estrogen therapy for the treatment of hot flashes, so that’s where you start the discussion.” Risks have been associated with hormone therapy, though less so for low doses of estrogen therapy specifically. If you are interested in estrogen therapy, consult a doctor who understands your entire health history.

Also remember that estrogen therapy is not the only treatment available for hot flashes. Talk with your doctor about the menopause management plan that’s best for you.

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