Hot Flashes and Night Sweats

Hot flashes and night sweats are sudden feelings of warmth, and are usually more intense over the upper torso. Hot flashes are most commonly due to menopause, the time when a woman's menstrual periods stop. However, other medical and hormonal conditions may cause them. Although how often hot flashes occur will vary, each hot flash usually subsides within a few minutes.

What Causes Hot Flashes and Night Sweat?

Medical experts do not know what causes hot flashes, but several factors are likely. These include changes in your body's ability to regulate temperature and in reproductive hormones (estrogen) during the transition to menopause. The hypothalamus, a region of the brain below the thalamus that coordinates body temperature, can become imbalanced with the changes in estrogen levels.

A diminished level of estrogen has a direct effect on the hypothalamus. It attempts to cool you down by triggering a series of events, including the dilation of blood vessels in order to release heat, which feels like a hot flash, and causes the sweat glands to produce perspiration. This makes you wake up hot and wet, and sometimes with a racing heart and increased anxiety.

What Can You Do to Manage these Discomforts?

About 80% of women transitioning into menopause will experience some hot flashes and night sweats. Of those women, 15% to 20% may have symptoms severe enough to require medication from their health care provider. There are also some other measures might be helpful, include:

1.     Breathe Deeply

When you are breathing deeply, the air inhaled through your nose fills up your lungs, and causes your lower abdomen to rise. Try inhaling slowly through your nose for 5 seconds and exhale slowly through your mouth for 5 seconds. Breathing deeply calms the sympathetic nervous system and enhances circulation. Practicing this skill allows you to use one of your body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms.

2.     Stay Comfortable

Use a fan in your bedroom to keep the air circulating. And consider wearing pajamas that wick away any sweat. Wicking fabric moves any moisture away from the skin. It works by absorbing and spreading any moisture throughout the fabric to enhance the evaporative drying rate. Pajamas made from this fabric can draw sweat away from your skin, and help you to sleep throughout the night.

3.     Try Yoga

Studies have found that in postmenopausal women who were having more than three moderate to severe hot flashes per day, and who began taking a restorative yoga class, led to a drop in the number of hot flashes along with their severity. Yoga focuses on relaxing the body in restful postures using props such as bolsters, blankets, and straps. The poses are usually sustained for 5-10 minutes each, putting you in a deep state of relaxation.

4.     Manage Your Weight

Studies have also found that overweight women often have more hot flashes and night sweats than women with a healthy weight. The excess fat traps heat, triggering your body to sweat more in order to cool off the blood vessels. This dilation brings more blood to the surface of the skin, helping your body to cool itself.

5.     Include Soy in Your Diet

Phytoestrogens are plant derived compounds found insoy that bind to estrogen receptors and mimic some of estrogen's effects in your body. Its health benefits include lowering the risk of menopausal symptoms, and may help protect you from hot flashes. Foods such as tofu, miso, and soy milk can serve as a natural alternative to estrogen replacement therapy.

6.     Consider Menopausal Hormone Therapy

To help relieve hot flashes and night sweats, some women in menopause use hormones. This is called menopausal hormone therapy (MHT).Estrogen is a hormone used to relieve the symptoms of menopause. Important note, a woman whose uterus has been removed can use estrogen only, but a woman who still has a uterus must add progesterone or a progestin along with the estrogen.

7.     Other Tips for Hot Flashes and Night Sweat

  • Quit smoking: Hot flashes have been linked to smoking, and one study has found that heavy smokers are four times more likely to experience hot flashes than those who don’t smoke.
  • Lower the temperature: Run the air conditioner or lower the heat, use a fan, or open a window while you are sleeping.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids daily, and keep a drink close to where you will be sleeping for quick relief.
  • Avoid triggers: Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods that are known to trigger hot flashes.

Can It Be Something Else?

  • Pancreatic tumors and other hormone-secreting tumors: Pancreatic cells create and release hormones that keep our body functioning properly, but if there are pancreatic tumors that are also releasing hormones, the result could be hot flashes.
  • Hyperthyroidism: Some women with menopausal like symptoms, might be suffering from undiagnosed thyroid disease or thyroid cancer. Although symptoms such as depression, fatigue, and sleeping disturbances are often associated with menopause, they could also be signs of hypothyroidism. If you are experiencing symptoms of menopause, don’t hesitate to discuss thyroid disease with your physician.
  • Rush of adrenaline: When exposed to a sudden stress or threat, the rush of adrenaline we experience is a result of the release of the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine that may feel similar to a hot flash. The presence of a stressful triggering event is a way to differentiate an adrenaline hot flash, from a menopausal induced hot flash.
  • Certain food and drinks: Eating spicy food is one of the triggers for hot flashes and sweating, and drinking beverages which contain caffeine and alcohol also has the similar effect. Some people have heavy flushing even only after a big meal. 
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