Six of the Most Common Hot Flash Triggers (And George Clooney is not one of them)
Hot flashes, night sweats, and cold flashes are all classified as “vasomotor” symptoms. Vasomoter refers to the changing temperature in the body. These are the symptoms that are most often associated with menopause, yeah we know very little about why women struggle with them during this particular season.
Current theories behind hot flashes center around the changes in your estrogen levels, which appear to affect your hypothalamus, the part of your brain that is responsible for regulating your body's temperature.
About 2 in 10 women never get hot flashes, while others have hot flashes for only a very short period of time. But there are the lucky ones that can have them for 11 years or more. On average, however, women get hot flashes or night sweats for about 7 years.
Anywhere from 75% to 85% of women will struggle with hot flashes, which are often accompanied by excessive sweating and increased heart rate.
Psychiatry professor Rebecca Thurston, during her 2019 presentation at the North American Menopause Society conference, shared the connection between frequent hot flashes and an increased risk of a cardiovascular disease. What she found was that women with more frequent hot flashes in their mid-forties had double the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure later in life. So hot flashes are clearly not just an inconvenience, sometimes can seriously affect your overall health.
The good news is there are a few treatments and strategies you can take to help reduce the severity of hot flashes. Medical organizations and experts agree that HT is one of the best treatment available for hot flashes.
Non-pharmaceutical options include evening Primrose oil and black cohosh supplements, but the data is currently mixed on their effectiveness.
It’s important to understand what triggers your specific hot flashes so that you can take control by making a few lifestyle tweaks to help alleviate the severity of your symptoms.
So here are the 6 Most Common Hot Flash Triggers:
Stress is perhaps the most common and most difficult hot flash trigger to manage. It’s more common for women to experience chronic stress and with that comes the constant production of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. When these hormone levels are high, they increase heart rate and blood pressure. These two processes lead to an increase in body temperature and that increase triggers a hot flash. Finding ways to manage stress can be difficult, but stress management is one of your best tools for reducing hot flashes.
Spicy food, though delicious and definitely one of my favorites, is another hot flash trigger. Chili peppers, jalapenos, and other hot peppers are also vasodilators. They raise body temperature by increasing the speed at which blood flows through the cardiovascular system. Additionally, spicy foods increase levels of hormones like adrenaline. When you eat a spicy herb or a pepper, your brain registers the heat that your tongue experiences as if it is, quite literally, on fire. This causes your brain to warn the rest of your body to release adrenaline and decrease feelings of pain. However, this process is also a double-edged sword, as it causes both your heart rate and blood pressure to rise, which as we know raises body temperature and triggers a hot flash. So for now, you may have to cut back on some of your favorite dishes or at least tone them down some!
Alcohol is one of the strongest hot flash triggers, especially for chronic alcohol consumers. Alcohol is one of the many beverages that causes vasodilation (the process of making blood vessels expand and widen) When this expansion occurs, it causes a rush of blood to surge throughout the body, which naturally raises body temperature. Raising body temperature is a precursor to triggering a hot flash. Limiting the amount of alcohol you consume is the best place to get started.
Unlike alcohol, caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it narrows the blood vessels, but that doesn’t mean it can’t trigger a hot flash. In fact, in many women, it still does. Caffeine is a stimulant, and like all stimulants, it raises heart rate and blood pressure, both of which can raise body temperature. The hypothalamus registers this rise in body temperature as a threat to maintaining steady body temperature, and again, it triggers a hot flash to cool down the body through sweat released from the glands in the skin. It also takes longer for caffeine to be metabolized by the body. One 6 ounce cup of coffee in the morning can take up to 12 hours for the body to metabolize and expel from the body. This means that the likelihood of experiencing multiple hot flashes throughout the day increases.
Warm or tight clothes can trigger hot flashes. Tight clothes create friction against the skin, which can not only be irritating to the skin’s surface, but it also generates heat. When enough heat builds up near the skin’s surface, the hypothalamus begins to think that the body is overheating and triggers a hot flash. Decreasing the amount of heat generated and insulated by your clothes can help you reduce the chances of experiencing numerous hot flashes throughout the day. Wear looser fitting clothes made out of a thinner, breathable fabric, especially when it’s hot out.
Of course, not all hot flash triggers are something we can easily control. Hot, humid weather is one of the biggest hot flashes triggers. When the weather is warm, the body has a hard time keeping itself cool. In a normal situation, our hypothalamus does what it does best and tells the skin to release sweat to cool the body from the outside in. For women in menopause, warm weather means that they may experience hot flashes more often throughout the day. It’s important to try to keep the skin as cool as possible. Using fans, ice packs, and drinking cold beverages when it’s hot out can help keep hot flashes at bay, even if it’s just for a little while.
There are many things that can trigger a hot flash, but being able to understand and identify your hot flash triggers is the first step in finding ways to manage your menopausal health and find some relief.
Do you have some tips you’d like to share with our community to help manage hot flashes? Please share by leaving them in the comments below!