Think you’re too young to be getting hot flashes? These unprompted sweaty episodes have long been associated with menopause, but there are a few reasons they can happen at any age. Let’s take a look at what hot flashes are, why they happen, and how to handle them when they surprise you at the most inopportune moments...
Hot flashes (the menopause kind) feel like a sudden rush of heat around the body that triggers sweating, heart palpitations and skin flushing. They are quick for some people, while others find them embarrassing and extremely uncomfortable.
For most people, they begin in the months or years before menopause, and studies show 4 in 5 people with periods experience hot flashes in middle age, with symptoms lasting on average 7 years. Hot flashes happen due to fluctuating or decreasing estrogen levels which impact the part of the brain that regulates temperature, causing a spike in body heat.
If you’re having hot flashes, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are starting menopause. They can happen when your body senses its core temperature is too warm, triggering your heart to beat faster, the blood vessels in your skin to expand, and your sweat glands to perspire in order to cool down.
While menopause is one reason for this, there are other possible causes such as anxiety, certain medications, infections, conditions like hyperthyroidism, consuming too much caffeine, and more. Then there are the hot flashes that come on during your period.
Hot flashes can happen at any age alongside menstruation. As long as you have no other symptoms, they are usually nothing to worry about. These are triggered by your fluctuating estrogen levels during this time of the month - just like when estrogen levels drop for good when a person hits menopause, you can experience a similar drop in estrogen when you are younger, too, which is what causes PMS symptoms.
For some, PMS symptoms rather unfairly include hot flashes alongside everything else! When ovulation happens in the middle of your cycle, progesterone levels increase causing a slight rise in body temperature. It’s usually not noticeable, but it can affect the part of the brain that balances temperature and sends signals to your body to sweat and cool down.
In short, your hormones get your brain all confused, and it alerts the body to sweat when it shouldn’t (usually while you’re in the middle of something reeeally important and could do without excess sweat and a red face…)
For some, hot flashes are a perfectly normal PMS symptom, but they can sometimes indicate early menopause. Menopause typically starts anywhere from age 45 onwards, but on rare occasions it can start earlier. This is known as primary ovarian insufficiency (POI). Other symptoms include irregular periods, mood changes, trouble focusing, and more.
With POI, fertility could be an issue, but rest assured the condition does not mean your ovaries are not functioning. If you believe these symptoms apply to you, speak to your doctor for more information, treatment options, and fertility advice if you plan to get pregnant.
Yes, anxiety is a common symptom that happens alongside hot flashes. You may feel a little irritated, frustrated, claustrophobic and jittery while you wait for the hot flash to pass. It helps to remember anxiety is a common and normal feeling to have when you are sitting at dinner and sweating like you’ve just run a marathon!
Night sweats are the same thing, except they happen while you sleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, it’s not just a bad dream, it’s likely your hormones. There can be other reasons for night sweats, like sleep apnea, infections, medication and more, but when your hormones are going haywire during your period, night sweats can occur while your body tries to catch some Zs.
While you can’t stop hot flashes entirely, you can avoid the triggers to lessen their impact. Triggers are different for everyone, but some common ones are alcohol, smoking, caffeine, spicy food, stress, and restrictive clothing. Keep a diary of when hot flashes happen and figure out what might be causing them at specific times so you can avoid repeating triggers.
There are a few tricks that could help manage hot flashes day-to-day:
Do you experience hot flashes during your period? Tell us how you handle them over in our Full Stop FB group or get in touch on Instagram at @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised period subscription box can get menstrual cycle care from organic tampons to hormonal supplements (and more) delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, which is one less thing to get flustered about each month.
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