What are hot flashes?
Hot flashes are short, sudden feelings of heat that can occur across the entire body or in parts of the body. Hot flashes may feel like waves of warmth traveling across the body. Hot flashes are generally accompanied by flushing and sweating. They can be mild or intense, can occur at any time of the day, and may be followed by chills.
Hot flashes generally arise from perimenopause or menopause as a result of age-related changes in hormone levels. Surgical removal of the ovaries and some treatments for endometriosis can also induce hot flashes. Hormone imbalances due to polycystic ovarian syndrome, anorexia, even pregnancy can generate hot flashes. They can also be caused by treatments for certain types of cancer.
Hot flashes are generally not serious, but they can interrupt sleep (they may be accompanied by night sweats) and cause discomfort or embarrassment. In cases in which hot flashes are problematic, estrogen therapy, progesterone therapy, antidepressants, or anticonvulsant medications may be used to reduce symptoms. For most postmenopausal women, the duration, frequency and severity of hot flashes will decrease with time.
Home therapy for hot flashes generally consists of comfort measures. You may find that wearing loose clothes and maintaining a comfortable room temperature may be helpful. Learning and practicing relaxation techniques may also help you minimize the discomfort of hot flashes.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have hot flashes along with other serious symptoms, including excessive sweating or high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), as these could be signs of a life-threatening condition. Seek prompt medical care if your hot flashes are persistent, interrupt your sleep, or cause you concern.
What other symptoms might occur with hot flashes?
Hot flashes may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the endocrine system may also involve other body systems.
Menopausal symptoms that may occur along with hot flashes
Hot flashes may accompany other symptoms affecting the endocrine system, such as the menopausal transition in women and midlife hormonal changes in men including:
- Changes in mood, personality or behavior
- Changes in self-image
- Changes in thinking patterns
- Sleep disruption
Other symptoms that may occur along with hot flashes
Hot flashes may accompany symptoms related to other body systems or other medication side effects including:
Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition
In some cases, hot flashes may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have hot flashes along with other serious symptoms including:
What causes hot flashes?
Hot flashes arise from changes in the body’s levels of estrogen and testosterone. Changes in hormone levels can result from normal processes of the body, such as menopause. Changes in hormone levels can also occur as a result of cancer or its treatments, specifically ovarian, testicular, prostate, and breast cancer.
Cancer-related causes of hot flashes
Hot flashes may arise from ovarian, testicular, prostate, or breast cancer and their treatment including:
- Hormone therapy
- Oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries)
- Orchiectomy (surgical removal of the testes)
- Radiation therapy
- Side effects of medications, such as certain steroids or antidepressants
Age-related causes of hot flashes
Hot flashes can also be caused by normal aging processes including:
- Changes in function of the hypothalamus
- Changes in thyroid hormone levels
Serious or life-threatening causes of hot flashes
In some cases, hot flashes may be a symptom of a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:
- Cancer of the ovaries or testes
- Pituitary adenoma
Some complementary treatments may help some people to better deal with the symptoms of hot flashes. These treatments, sometimes referred to as alternative therapies, are used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Complementary treatments are not meant to substitute for traditional medical care. Be sure to notify your doctor if you are consuming nutritional supplements or homeopathic (nonprescription) remedies as they may interact with the prescribed medical therapy.
- Complementary treatments may include:
- Massage therapy
- Nutritional dietary supplements, herbal remedies, tea beverages, and similar products
Questions for diagnosing the cause of hot flashes
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your hot flashes including:
- Are you aware of any family or personal history of hormone imbalance?
- Are you currently being treated for any type of cancer?
- Are you in menopause?
- Do you have any other symptoms of menopause?
- Are your hot flashes bothersome?
- Do your hot flashes interrupt your sleep?
- How long have you been experiencing hot flashes?
- What medications are you taking?
What are the potential complications of hot flashes?
While hot flashes themselves do not generally lead to any serious complications, they may interrupt sleep, cause embarrassment, or interfere with daily life. Hot flashes can also cause significant discomfort. Because hot flashes may sometimes be due to serious diseases, such as cancer of the ovaries or testes, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including: