Archive for December 5th, 2018

This sudden feeling of intense heat can happen for a number of reasons.

You’re doing your thing, minding your own business, and then you start to feel the heat. It’s like someone injected your skin with whatever comes in those little hand-warming gel packets. Hot flashes are sudden feelings of intense heat that you usually experience over your face, neck, and chest.

Hot flashes are annoying, and they can leave you with a pounding heart, flushed skin, and—when they pass—a sweat-stained shirt and a case of the chills. While it’s true that they are usually associated with menopause and perimenopause, women (and men) of any age can experience them, says Beth Battaglino, RN, CEO and women’s health expert with the nonprofit HealthyWomen. “Hot flashes can strike at any time and for a lot of different reasons,” Battaglino explains.

Before diving into those reasons, it’s important to point out that experiencing one doesn’t mean anything scary is going on, says Alexandra Sowa, MD, founder of SoWell Health, a private practice focused on disease prevention through nutrition, fitness, and medicine. “It’s not clear why some people experience them and some don’t, but for many it’s a benign or transient condition,” she explains.

If you feel like you’re having hot flashes on a consistent basis, Dr. Sowa and other docs recommend jotting down some notes in your phone or on a pad of paper every time you experience one. “Write down the time of day and what you were doing before they started,” Dr. Sowa suggests.

“Keeping that kind of diary may help you make associations or identify your triggers—things such as red wine or stress,” adds Lynn Simpson, MD, a gynecologist at Cleveland Clinic. This info could also help your doctor figure out the underlying cause of your hot flashes, she says.

What causes hot flashes

That said, there are a number of reasons you could be experiencing hot flashes. Here are the most common triggers—and what to do about them.


It’s no secret that menopause is the most common cause of hot flashes. During menopause, your ovaries stop releasing eggs and the levels of estrogen and progesterone are lower. These hormone changes can affect your body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Cool off: If your symptoms are severe, your doctor might suggest hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This type of medication includes estrogen to help manage hormone levels and relieve menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. However, there are risks to undergoing HRT. Studies have associated HRT with a higher risk of breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Breast cancer treatment

That said, hot flashes and night sweats can be a side effect of breast cancer treatment, the National Cancer Institute reports. Oftentimes, radiation and chemotherapy can cause premature menopause in young women, and older women can go into menopause as a result of chemo.

Cool off: To help manage your symptoms, limit your consumption of spicy foods and hot drinks, avoid hot showers, saunas, and triggers like stress and alcohol. Take a cool shower before going to bed and lower the temperature in your bedroom. Sleep in cooling sheets and comforters made with natural materials like cotton, linen, and silk.

Prescription meds

Hot flashes are a side effect of many common prescription drugs, Dr. Simpson says. She mentions opioids, antidepressants, and some osteoporosis drugs as a few of the common medication triggers. Some steroids that are used to treat swelling can also trigger hot flashes. Men who have had surgery to remove one or both testicles can also experience hot flashes.

Battaglino recommends looking for symptoms soon after starting a new course of medication. “If they coincide, you’ll know that’s probably the cause,” she adds.

Cool off: Let your health care provider know what’s up. He or she may be able to switch you to a similar drug that doesn’t leave you hot under the collar. “It may also be that the hot flashes will go away as your body gets acclimated to the medication, so your provider can reassure you the discomfort won’t last long,” Battaglino adds.

Excess weight

By now you’ve probably heard that body fat is metabolically active, which helps explain the links between obesity and some cancers. And because excess weight can mess with your metabolism, it can also promote hot flashes, Battaglino says.

Cool off: It’s a predictable remedy. But diet and exercise can bring relief, especially if you’re overweight or obese, according to a 2010 study from the University of California, San Francisco. Compared with overweight and obese women who did not attempt to lose weight, those who ate healthily and exercised 200 minutes per week were twice as likely to report fewer hot flashes. Try these effective exercises for weight loss.

Food allergies or sensitivities

Almost all of us experience something like a hot flash when we eat very spicy foods, Dr. Simpson says. But if you have an unidentified food allergy or intolerance, something else in your diet could be the cause, Battaglino explains.

Cool off: Alcohol, caffeine, and additives like sulfites are some common triggers, Simpson says. Pay attention to how your body reacts the next time you ingest any of them, and you may find a correlation. If that doesn’t help, consider speaking with your doctor or a registered dietitian about a structured elimination diet.


While you’ll often hear the words “stress” and “anxiety” used interchangeably, mental health experts tend to use the term “anxiety” to refer to the physical side of emotions like stress, fear, or worry. A racing heart and nervous fidgeting are two of the classic anxiety symptoms. And feeling anxious can also set off uncomfortable symptoms, Battaglino says.

Cool off: “Reminding yourself to breathe is a simple exercise that can help calm anxiety,” Battaglino explains. Exercise, meditation, and yoga are also effective anxiety busters. If those don’t work, you may be suffering from a more serious form of anxiety. Consider speaking with a doctor or cognitive behavioral therapist.

Medical conditions

Almost any medical problem related to your hormones or endocrine system could lead to menopause-like symptoms. In particular, thyroid issues—especially an overactive thyroid—could explain your bouts of feeling warm, Battaglino says. Infections or viruses can also cause them, Dr. Sowa explains.

If the problem is your thyroid, you’ll likely experience other symptoms besides hot flashes. A racing heart, unexplained weight loss, lots of trips to the bathroom, and feeling extreme fatigue at certain times of the day are all symptoms associated with an overactive thyroid. When it comes to other health issues—including infections—look for an elevated temp and symptoms like diarrhea or bowel discomfort, Dr. Sowa says.

Cool off: If you’re experiencing any of those associated symptoms along with your hot flashes, talk to your doc about getting a diagnosis and treatment plan.

A hot bedroom

Your body temperature naturally fluctuates throughout the night, Dr. Simpson says. So it’s common for women (and men) to wake up in the middle of the night feeling overheated or sweaty.

Cool off: “It may be as simple a fix as turning down the thermostat or sleeping with fewer blankets or clothes,” Dr. Simpson says. You can also try these cooling sheets and lightweight comforters to prevent night sweats.



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