A cold flash is when a person suddenly experiences feelings of shivering and chills. Cold flashes can be the result of hormonal or emotional fluctuations.

In this article, we look at why cold flashes may occur and how to manage them.

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Cold flashes can occur due to changes in a person’s hormone levels or due to anxiety and panic.

A part of the brain called the hypothalamus regulates a person’s internal body temperature. Cold flashes can occur when hormones affect the hypothalamus’s ability to function correctly.

Panic disorder

When a person experiences high levels of anxiety, it can turn into a panic attack. This is where the body reacts to a rush of intense mental and physical symptoms.

When a person experiences a panic attack, their body reacts by activating the fight-or-flight mode to ward off the perceived threat.

Common physical symptoms that may occur during a panic attack include:

  • feeling cold or hot
  • sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • nausea
  • chest pain
  • abdominal pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • weakness in the legs

During anxiety attacks and panic attacks, the body releases adrenaline and stress hormones, which impact the hypothalamus’s ability to regulate body temperature effectively, potentially leading to cold or hot flashes.

Menopause

Menopause is a change in hormones as a result of which a person stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant.

On average, people in the United States will reach menopause between ages 51–52.

Approximately 75% of people going through menopause experience vasomotor symptoms, including hot flashes, cold flashes, palpitations, and migraines. The term “vasomotor” refers to dilation and constriction of the blood vessels.

Hot flashes are a common menopausal symptom, with many people reporting hot flashes at some point during the menopausal transition. However, cold flashes can also occur.

Learn more about the vasomotor symptoms of menopause here.

According to a 2019 review, healthcare professionals define hot flashes as sensations of heat, sweating, flushing, chills, and anxiety. The flashes can last for 1–5 minutes.

A person may experience a cold flash after a hot flash. As the body reacts to the sweat it creates due to the hot flash, a person can subsequently experience a cold flash.

Cold flashes may be a sign of menopause if a person is also experiencing symptoms such as:

  • fewer or less frequent periods
  • unexplained weight gain
  • migraines
  • vaginal dryness
  • feelings of anger or irritability

Pregnancy

There is no known association between cold flashes and pregnancy. However, a person may experience cold flashes immediately after giving birth.

These cold flashes, also known as postpartum chills, can cause intense and sudden shivering.

A 2001 study found that postpartum chills occurred in 32% of participants. The authors of the study concluded that the chills could result from the transfer of fetal blood to the person giving birth during labor.

If a person regularly experiences cold flashes, they can try:

  • wearing layers that they can add to or remove when necessary
  • moving their body throughout a cold flash to help increase their body temperature
  • avoiding anxiety-provoking situations, if possible
  • learning to manage anxiety, for example, through techniques such as mindfulness or yoga

If a person experiences a cold flash after exercising, it could be due to the clothing they wear. For example, the clothes could be damp from sweating.

Replacing wet clothing and adding layers after exercise can help prevent a person from experiencing cold flashes.

If a person has cold flashes due to panic attacks, they can try the following:

  • Focusing on breathing: A person can breathe slowly in and out while counting to five each time.
  • Focusing on the senses: A person can touch something soft or eat a piece of candy.
  • Applying grounding techniques: A person can breathe slowly and focus on their surroundings, including sounds, smells, and tastes.

Learn more about how to stop a panic attack here.

If a person goes through menopause, hormone therapy can help regulate the hormones and treat the vasomotor symptoms of menopause, such as hot and cold flashes.

However, the use of hormones can increase the chance of developing some medical conditions and diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer.

Some antidepressants can treat the vasomotor symptoms of menopause. They do not carry the same concerns as hormone therapy.

Learn more about the treatment options for menopause here.

Treatment options for anxiety and panic disorder typically involve therapy and medications.

Learn more about the treatment options for panic disorder here.

A person may wish to speak to a doctor about their cold flashes if they are frequent or impact the person’s daily life.

A healthcare professional may order blood tests to check a person’s hormone levels, and they may ask questions about the occurrence of the cold flashes.

Cold flashes typically occur due to hormonal fluctuations and anxiety.

They can be unpleasant and disrupt a person’s daily life.

If a person experiences cold flashes for the first time or the cold flashes impact their quality of life, they can consider speaking to a healthcare professional.