If you’re around “that” age and you’re muttering, “Is it me, or is it hot in here?” chances are you’re experiencing a hot flash.
I’m talking about the time of perimenopause — before the menstrual irregularities of menopause hit or are even noticed — usually sometime in your 40s.
And if, instead of asking the question, you can’t even get the words out because you’re too busy mopping up your sweat and trying to calm your racing heart, chances are you’re having a hot flash that’s a really bad one — a severe hot flash.
Up to 40 percent of regularly menstruating women in their 40s can blame waning estrogen levels for those hormonal and biochemical fluctuations that result in hot flashes.
Aside from those declining estrogen levels, your body's thermostat (hypothalamus) becomes more sensitive to slight changes in body temperature.
The good news?
The hot flashes that three out of four menopausal women feel will end — eventually. Conventional wisdom says they’ll fade away after six to 24 months.
The bad news?
Recent studies have found that they can last longer than had been thought — up to 11 years. These new estimates (sorry, ladies) came from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a long-term study of women who are in the menopausal transition, published in April of 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Dr. JoAnn Manson, professor of women’s health at Harvard Medical School and professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, quoted in Harvard Health Publications said, “The data from this study confirm what many women already know firsthand. Hot flashes can go on for years and take a toll on a woman’s health and well-being.”
Hot flashes often come without warning and can occur as little as one or two a day, or as often as one an hour. They come in many shapes and forms, from mild to moderate to severe.
Some women sail through the menopausal transition with nary a hint of unusual warmth. They may feel slight discomfort, a feeling so slight that it can go unnoticed.
Yet others suffer from feelings that are so uncomfortable they want to strip off all their clothing and plunge headfirst into a pool of ice water. The sudden feeling of profuse heat spreads throughout their upper body and face, causing flushing and red, blotchy skin, drenching their clothing.
Their heart may start to race. The temperature climbs, along with their anxiety level. Some women feel a sense of panic and dread. Although it may be wintertime, the urge to throw every window in the house open is overwhelming.
Hot Flashes. Medicine.net. com. Retrieved July 16, 2015. http://www.medicinenet.com/hot_flashes/symptoms.htm
Reviewed July 16, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith