Hot flushes

One of the most distinctive symptoms of menopause is a hot flush, also called a ‘hot flash’. About 70% of menopausal women are affected by them.1 A hot flush is a sudden feeling of intense heat and is sometimes accompanied by a red, flushed face and sweating. Hot flushes can occur anytime during the day. When they are commonly experienced during the night, they are called ‘night sweats’. The physical symptoms women describe are very uncomfortable and many women feel embarrassed by hot flushes which makes the experience more stressful.1

How long do hot flushes last?

The duration of hot flushes and their frequency differ from woman to woman. They usually last about 30 seconds or so, but they can also persist for 15 to 30 minutes. A woman may experience a hot flush occasionally, or they can happen frequently. They usually disappear within two years after menopause, but the differences here are considerable too. One woman may be bothered by them for a couple of months, the next woman for several years.

The cause of hot flushes

During this transitional period, the body's production of the hormone estrogen decreases. Because of the fluctuations in your hormone balance, the area of your brain that regulates temperature is disrupted. Your body can then receive the wrong signal and think that you're overheating. This causes your blood vessels to expand to release heat: a hot flush.

How you can help yourself cope with hot flushes

  • Wear light clothing, preferably made of natural fibers. And wear your clothing in layers. When you have a hot flush, you can take something off.
  • Hold a cold wet compress to the inside of your elbows, wrists or at the back of your neck. Drinking a glass of ice cold water can also help. If you are on the move, carry a water bottle with you and use it to cool your face and neck.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water or herbal tea every day (1.5–2 L per day).
  • There may be benefits in eating foods rich in phytoestrogens to help ease hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms. However more research is needed to prove this. 2
    Foods rich in phytoestrogens include potatoes, carrots, pineapple, Brussels sprouts, apples, cauliflower, broccoli, mint, soy and flax products.
  • Try to avoid or limit stimulants. Several stimulants trigger overheating such as spicy foods, caffeinated drinks, alcohol and smoking.
  • If you like spicy flavors, try replacing heat-inducing spices such as chilli 3, with gentle, flavorful alternatives such as coriander and turmeric that have a soothing rather than stimulating effect.

References

1. Hunter, M. S. & Mann, E. A cognitive model of menopausal hot flushes and night sweats. J. Psychosom. Res. 69, 491–501 (2010).
2. Than, D.M, Gardner, C.D, Haskell, W.L, Potential Health Benefits of Dietary Phytoestrogens: A Review of the Clinical, Epidemiological, and Mechanistic Evidence.
The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 83, Issue 7, 1 July 1998, Pages 2223–2235, https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem.83.7.4752
3. Meghvansi, M. K. et al. Naga chilli: A potential source of capsaicinoids with broad-spectrum ethnopharmacological applications. J. Ethnopharmacol. 132, 1–14 (2010).

Want more advice about how to cope with other symptoms? Get expert tips for the most prevalent menopausal symptoms.