Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause, although they also occur due to a thyroid condition. A flash may mean a sudden sensation of heat all over the body or just in the upper part. It may also cause skin flushing on the chest, arms, and back.
When hot flashes occur at night, people may refer to them as night sweats. Lifestyle changes, such as dressing in layers, may help people feel more comfortable. Hormone treatments may also help keep symptoms under control.
This article discusses the various causes of hot flashes, including menopause and other medical conditions. It also looks at prevention strategies, treatment options, and when to seek medical advice.
Hot flashes are a common symptom of the menopause transition. However, they can also present with other conditions, such as hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), diabetes, and primary ovarian insufficiency (POI).
When people experience menopause transition, they will notice many changes in their bodies. Some of these changes, such as hot flashes, may cause discomfort.
Some females may experience hot flashes for a longer period, with African American and Hispanic females experiencing them for more years than white and Asian females.
Other menopause transition symptoms include:
The treatment a doctor recommends depends on the severity of the hot flashes. If a person is experiencing mild hot flashes, they may only need to:
- use fans in their room
- avoid alcohol
- avoid spicy food
- wear cool materials
For more severe symptoms, a doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Thyroid conditions, including hyper- and hypothyroidism, and menopause transition share similar symptoms, including hot flashes.
If a person is at the age where they could be transitioning to menopause, they may want to ask their doctor to check their thyroid gland.
A doctor can diagnose a thyroid problem, with a blood test that measures levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. It can produce symptoms that are very similar to menopause transition, including hot flashes.
Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism that are similar to menopause transition include:
A doctor may prescribe the following medications to treat hyperthyroidism:
Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid that does not produce enough thyroid hormone to meet the body’s needs. Hypothyroidism sometimes causes hot flashes, but it is not the most common symptom.
Other symptoms include:
- changes in body temperature
- joint and muscle pain
- cold intolerance
While there is no cure for the condition, doctors can treat and control it by supplementing the thyroid hormone. Treatment may include synthetic thyroxine, such as levothyroxine or iodine, along with a regulated diet.
People transitioning through the years to menopause, known as perimenopause, may continue to menstruate, but their hormone levels will change.
If a person is also living with diabetes, they may notice intense heat over their bodies.
Keeping active is an important part of diabetes care, but people must ensure they do not overheat when exercising. During workouts, people should take regular breaks, hydrate, and rest when they feel tired.
To treat perimenopause and diabetes, a doctor may prescribe hormone therapy, as it can treat menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, while also potentially reducing the risk of diabetes.
Other steps a person can take to reduce their risk of diabetes include lifestyle changes such as:
- keeping active
- limiting fatty and sugary foods
- maintaining a healthy weight
- consuming the recommended amount of omega 3
Premature ovarian insufficiency
Premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) occurs when a person’s ovaries stop working before they are 40. Symptoms may be similar to menopause transition, with people experiencing hot flashes. Other similar symptoms include vaginal dryness and pain during sex.
A doctor may treat POI with hormone therapy. The goal of hormone therapy is to provide symptom relief and ensure a person maintains bone, vascular, and sexual health as they get older.
A person with POI may also receive counseling and fertility treatment options.
Cancer treatments and hot flashes
Cancer survivors and people undergoing chemotherapy sometimes report experiences of hot flashes or night sweats.
Other cancer-related treatments that may cause hot flashes include:
- hormone therapy (tamoxifen)
- radiation therapy
- tricyclic anti-depressants
High levels of stress may also contribute to night sweats or hot flashes. In general, psychological treatments that help alleviate anxiety and stress could also reduce the symptoms of night sweats or hot flashes.
Other techniques to help reduce the symptoms of night sweats include:
A person may want to combine drug therapy with psychological therapy.
Some lifestyle changes may relieve hot flashes, including the following:
- dressing in layers
- carrying a portable fan
- avoiding alcohol
- stopping smoking
- maintaining a moderate weight
- practicing yoga and meditation (online or in-class)
If a person is experiencing consistent, severe hot flashes that affect their daily life, they could consider talking with a doctor or healthcare professional about suitable treatments.
Not all treatments will work for everyone, so it is important to persevere with different treatment options until finding one that works. It is a good idea for people to keep their doctor updated on progress.
Hot flashes are a common menopause transition symptom. However, hot flashes can occur due to other conditions, such as diabetes and POI. Cancer treatments may cause hot flashes in some people.
For milder cases of hot flashes, a person may find that lifestyle changes help alleviate discomfort. For more severe symptoms, a person should speak with their doctor and work on a treatment plan that focuses on drug and psychological therapy.
There are alternative treatments if a person cannot take estrogen therapy.