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Hot Flashes and Menopause (cont.)

What do hot flashes feel like?

Hot flashes often begin before any menstrual changes suggestive of menopause develop, so hot flashes may appear even years prior to the actual menopause. Hot flashes always involve the sensation of heat, but other symptoms may also be associated as follows:

  • An uncomfortable, diffuse feeling of warmth throughout the body, that is often most severe in the head and neck areas, is characteristic of hot flashes.
  • Flushing (redness) of the skin may occur.
  • Excessive sweating, including night sweats, can accompany hot flashes.
  • Palpitations (unpleasant sensations of irregular and/or forceful beating of the heart) may sometime accompany hot flashes.
  • Chills and shivering can occur following a hot flash.

The symptoms of a hot flash typically develop suddenly, without warning, and last from less than one minute to several minutes.

What causes hot flashes?

The exact cause of the hot flashes is not fully understood, but the declining estrogen levels that occur as a woman approaches menopause are thought to play a role. A disorder in thermoregulation (methods the body uses to control and regulate body temperature) is responsible for the sensation of heat, but the exact way in which hormone levels affect heat regulation is not well understood.

While hot flashes are typically associated with the menopause in women, certain uncommon medical conditions can also lead to hot flashes and disorders of the body's ability to regulate temperature. One example is the carcinoid syndrome, which occurs due to a type of endocrine tumor that secretes large amounts of the hormone serotonin. Hot flashes can also develop as a side effect of some medications and can sometimes occur in association with severe infections or cancers.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/11/2016
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