Hot Flashes: Is It Hot In Here?

January 1, 1970

Perhaps the most common physiological occurrence associated with menopause is hot flashes. Countless jokes and stories abound with catch phrases that make a woman going through menopause either laugh or cry.

How It All Beings... Hot Flashes and Menopause

It often begins something like this. You wake up in the morning and you are soaked to the skin. Your hair is wet and so is the pillow. As you lay there, wet and wondering, you can't seem to grasp what has happened. Maybe I had a fever and it broke through the night. After all, it is possible. Then the night sweat is followed by random episodes of chills and sweats during the day. My, you think, I really must be sick. Well, the good news is that you are not sick. The other news is that it could go on for some time.

Welcome To The Wonderful World Of Menopause

You have joined the throngs of women who are experiencing menopause. Hot flashes, or tropical heat waves, as some women refer to them, are a typical and common occurrence for women going through menopause. In fact, about 80-90 percent of women in menopause experience hot flashes. Most of these women also have to deal with the "dreaded sweats" for two years or more-sometimes up to five years for some women.

What causes hot flashes? Nobody knows for sure but the consensus among "those in the know" is that declining hormones in your body cause the rush of blood, palpitations, and sweating that is associated with hot flashes. Other factors may figure into the equation, like fluctuation of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Here's What Happens: Hot Flashes

Scientifically what happens is that your body produces a hormone in the brain called gonadotropin hormone (GnRH), which is a key factor in fertility. As your estrogen and progesterone levels drop during menopause, more of this hormone is produced. GnRH is also keyed to regulating heat sensors in the brain, so, when there is higher production of GnRH the body thinks it is in overdrive and is overheating. The response is perspiration to cool the body down. Suddenly you begin to sweat as the heat rises from the midsection all the way to your face. Sometimes a feeling of nausea or suffocation follows along. Then, just as quickly, the sweating causes the body to cool and voila - you're shivering with chills. Are we having fun yet? Fortunately, on average this whole experience lasts only a couple of minutes. However, some women have to endure it for a half-hour or more. It isn't unusual for a woman to experience hot flashes every two to four hours during the day.

Will I Ever Sleep Again? Night Hot Flashes

The worst of hot flashes is the sticky, sweaty, feeling that follows. Some women get away with a little glisten above the lip while others feel like they've been sunbathing in a mink coat. If the transition between perimenopause and menopause is fast, then expect a lot of sweat. It isn't odd to feel exhausted after a day of hot flashes. Unfortunately, they go on through the night as the body releases estrogen. Consequently, the chances of a good night's sleep are remote.

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