• Dr Peter Chew

Hot flashes

Q. I am 50. My menses is getting very irregular. Recently, I experienced sudden episodes of warmth around my neck and face followed by sweating for a few minutes. These happen more frequently in the evenings and nights. I also notice redness over my face at the same time. Am I suffering from hot flashes? What are the causes? How long will it last? Is there any way of treatment without taking medications?

A. You are having hot flashes, which together with sweating, are the two most common symptoms of women undergoing menopause. Hot flashes can appear suddenly and can occur several times a day.

Besides feeling warm and sweaty, your heart may beat slightly faster than usual with occasional tingling in the fingers. Some women have hot flashes for a few months while others can suffer for years. The exact cause of hot flashes remains unclear but hormonal changes in the body at or around menopause may cause the blood vessels near the skin's surface to dilate. This reaction can be triggered by several factors including:

  • Spicy foods,

  • Hot drinks,

  • Alcohol,

  • Coffee,

  • Smoking,

  • Stress and anxiety,

  • Tight clothing,

  • Warm environment.

To manage hot flashes, it is important to identify the trigger. Keeping a journal is useful. Take note of each incident, including what foods are being taken before the hot flash. This will help narrow down the trigger .

If the symptoms are mild, hot flashes can be managed with lifestyle changes which include:

  • Having comfortable loose cotton clothing,

  • Keeping a fan or air conditioner on while sleeping,

  • Using cotton bed sheets and chilled pillows,

  • Having an ice pack on your bedside table,

  • Drinking ice water,

  • Avoiding spicy foods, alcohol and coffee,

  • Stopping smoking,

  • Reducing stress by regular exercise or by doing yoga or meditation,

  • Avoid hot and crowded areas.

In severe cases when the quality of life is affected, medications may have to be prescribed.

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