Hot flashes are sudden feelings of warmth, which are usually most intense over the face, neck and chest. Your skin might redden, as if you're blushing. Hot flashes can also cause sweating, and if you lose too much body heat, you might feel chilled afterward.
Although other medical conditions can cause them, hot flashes most commonly are due to menopause — the time when menstrual periods become irregular and eventually stop. In fact, hot flashes are the most common symptom of the menopausal transition.
How often hot flashes occur varies among women and can range from a few a week to several an hour. There are a variety of treatments for particularly bothersome hot flashes.
During a hot flash, you might have:
- A sudden feeling of warmth spreading through your upper body and face
- A flushed appearance with red, blotchy skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Perspiration, mostly on your upper body
- A chilled feeling as the hot flash lets up
Hot flashes can vary in frequency and intensity. How long symptoms last varies greatly. On average, symptoms persist for more than seven years. Some women have them for more than 10 years.
When to see a doctor
If hot flashes become particularly bothersome, consider seeing your doctor to discuss treatment options.
The cause of hot flashes isn't known, but it's likely related to several factors. These include changes in reproductive hormones and in your body's thermostat (hypothalamus), which becomes more sensitive to slight changes in body temperature.
Not all women who go through menopause have hot flashes, and it's not clear why some women do have them. Factors that may increase your risk include:
- Smoking. Women who smoke are more likely to get hot flashes.
- Obesity. A high body mass index (BMI) is associated with a higher frequency of hot flashes.
- Ethnicity. More African-American women report menopausal hot flashes than do women of European descent. Hot flashes are less common in women of Japanese and Chinese descent than in white European women.
Nighttime hot flashes (night sweats) can wake you from sleep and, over time, can cause chronic insomnia. There is some association with hot flashes and increased risk of heart disease and bone loss.