Hot flushes, or night sweats if they happen at night) are a symptom which may have several other causes, but is often caused by the changing hormone levels that are characteristic of menopause.
Causes and mechanism
Research on hot flashes is mostly focused on treatment options. The exact cause has not yet been fully studied. It is thought that reduced levels of oestrogen as the primary cause of hot flashes.]There are indications that hot flashes may be due to a change in the hypothalamus’s control of temperature regulation. This would mean that the sensation of heat isn’t merely imaginary, but due to actual changes in body core temperature.
Hot flushes, a common symptom of menopause are typically experienced as a feeling of intense heat with sweating and rapid heartbeat, and may typically last from two to thirty minutes for each occurrence. The sensation of heat usually begins in the face or chest, although it may appear elsewhere such as the back of the neck, and it can spread throughout the whole body. Some women feel as if they are going to faint. In addition to being an internal sensation, the surface of the skin, especially on the face, becomes hot to the touch.
The hot-flush may be repeated a few times each week or every few minutes throughout the day. Hot flashes may begin to appear several years before menopause starts and last for years afterwards. Some women undergoing menopause never have hot flushes. Others have mild or infrequent flashes. The worst sufferers experience many hot flushes each day. In addition, hot flushes are often more frequent and more intense during hot weather or in an overheated room, the surrounding heat apparently making the hot flashes themselves both more probable and more severe.
Severe hot flushes can make it difficult to get a full night’s sleep, which in turn can affect mood, impair concentration. When hot flushes occur at night, they are called “night sweats.” As oestrogen is typically lowest at night, some women get night sweats without having any hot flashes during the daytime.
In younger women
When hot flushes occur in a younger women not normally considered old enough to be menopausal, it may be a symptom of other hormonal problems, so seeing a doctor is highly recommended. In younger women who are surgically menopausal, hot flushes are generally more intense than in older women, and they may last until natural age at menopause.
There are various types of treatment for hot flushes the main ones listed below. All either carry the risk of, in some cases quite serious side effects or are not that effective or a combination of both. Acupuncture while not guaranteed to reduce symptoms (only 80% of people respond to acupuncture) there is little risk of any side effects serious or otherwise.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles, often painless, at various points around the body. The needles used are sterile and single use disposable. These are left inserted for about 10-20 minutes, sometimes the needles are twiddled, this can help to elicit and stronger reaction.
The treatment is usually repeated twice a week.
Usually if the treatment is to be successful some relief is seen within three weeks of starting treatment.
Hormone replacement therapy
Hormone replacement therapy may relieve many of the symptoms of menopause. However, HRT may increase the risk of breast cancer, stroke, and dementia and has other potentially serious short-term and long-term risks The U.S. FDA and women’s health advocates recommend that women who experience troublesome hot flushes try alternatives to hormonal therapies as the first line of treatment. If a woman chooses hormones, they suggest she take the lowest dose that alleviates her symptoms for as short a time as possible.
Selective oestrogen receptor modulators
SERMs are a category of drugs that act selectively as agonists or antagonists on the oestrogen receptors throughout the body. Tamoxifen, a drug used in the treatment of some types of breast cancer and which can cause hot flushes as a side effect.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
SSRIs are a class of antidepressants most commonly used in the treatment of depression, and some personality disorders. They have been found as efficient in alleviating hot flushes.
Isoflavones are commonly found in legumes such as soy and red clover. The two soy isoflavones implicated in relieving menopausal symptoms are genistein and daidzein, and are also known as phytoestrogens.Although red clover (Trifolium pratense) contains isoflavones similar to soy, the effectiveness of this herb for menopausal symptoms at relatively low concentrations points to a different mechanism of action.
It is believed that dietary changes that include a higher consumption of phytoestrogens from sources such as soy, red clover, ginseng, and yam may relieve hot flushes.
Lifestyle changes may help alleviate hot flushes. These include avoiding caffeine, hot drinks, chocolate, spicy or hot foods and alcohol.
Hot flushes in men could have various causes. One is a possible sign of low testosterone. Another is andropause, or “male menopause.” Men with prostate cancer or testicular cancer can also have hot flashes, especially those who are undergoing hormone therapy with antiandrogens, also known as androgen antagonists, which reduce testosterone levels. There are also other ailments and even dietary changes which can cause it.