A hot flash is the most common symptom of menopause. Around 75 percent of American women experience these sudden, intense waves of heat in the years before their periods stop. Here's what you need to know to stay cool:
What causes hot flashes? The exact cause is unknown, but scientists believe it has something to do with fluctuating levels of estrogen in the brain in the years before menopause. Not all women who reach natural menopause (the average age is 51 in this country) experience frequent or severe hot flashes. There's a huge range, with many women saying they're not bothered by these bursts of heat. You are more likely to be troubled by hot flashes if you smoke or are overweight.
How hot am I? You may feel like you are burning up, but your body temperature doesn't change at all during a hot flash. Skin temperature can rise as much as seven degrees although generally it's between one and four degrees.
How long will the hot flash last? On average, they last between 30 seconds and five minutes although some women have hot flashes that last up to 30 minutes. It can take as long as half an hour for your skin temperature to return to normal after a hot flash.
When will hot flashes stop? Most women get hot flashes only for a couple of years as their estrogen levels fluctuate. After menopause, hot flashes generally stop although there are a few women who say they still get occasional hot flashes many years past menopause.
What can I do to feel better? There are a number of lifestyle changes that can alleviate the frequency and severity of hot flashes. These include: stopping smoking, losing weight, getting regular exercise to reduce stress, and figuring out your personal triggers - such as too much caffeine or spicy food. If all of these fail, you may be a candidate for hormone therapy but you should check with your doctor to see if the benefits outweigh the risks for you.