Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms affecting middle-aged women during the menopause transition. But what if a woman experiences hot flashes at a younger age? Hot flashes before the age of 40 are not unheard of, but they are out of the ordinary and worth mentioning to a doctor.
There are a few different possible causes; keep reading to find more detailed information about hot flashes that occur during a younger age.
Identifying Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are characterized by a sudden rush of intense heat that radiates through the body for minutes at a time, normally dissipating almost as fast as it appeared. Heat can cause excessive perspiration, flushing, a racing heartbeat, and general discomfort. There is a variety of causes that could explain cases of hot flashes in young women. Read further to learn about the different triggers of hot flashes.
What Are the Causes of Hot Flashes in Young Women?
The main cause of hot flashes in women under 40 is a condition referred to as primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), which affects about 1 in 100 women. Also known as premature menopause or premature ovarian failure, POI has earned its new name because it isn't always permanent; the non-functioning of the ovaries can turn on and off.
Primary ovarian sufficiency is when a woman's body is essentially going through the same physical transition as a menopausal woman: the ovaries stop releasing eggs and estrogen production is greatly diminished. Women with POI are generally infertile, skip periods, are at risk for bone loss, and have other typical menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.
There are a few reasons why a woman might undergo early menopause, such as:
Chemotherapy or radiation. Chemo for cancer treatment or pelvic radiation can interfere with ovarian function and cause early-onset menopause.
Oophorectomy. Having the ovaries removed immediately causes menopause, as they are no longer available for normal hormone production.
Hysterectomy. While this surgery does not cause menopause per se, it can cause hot flashes, or increase the chances that a women will experience menopause earlier.
Genetics. Studies show that early menopause tends to run in the family.
Chromosomal defects. Chromosomal problems, such as Turner's syndrome, can affect the formation of the ovaries and thus precipitate early menopause.
Autoimmune diseases. Sometimes, the body can mistakenly attack the ovaries, impairing their function and hormone production.
Additionally, other factors may precipitate or exacerbate hot flashes or cause feelings of heat or sweating that resemble a hot flash. Some of these factors include:
- Spicy foods
- Some prescription drugs
- Underlying medical conditions
While hot flashes are typically associated with menopause - or the cessation of menstruation - women might be surprised to discover that hot flashes often begin well before the last period, during the transitional stage leading up to menopause called perimenopause. This phase can last for years, so while menopause may still occur at a later, typical age, perimenopause and the subsequent hot flashes may occur at an age younger than expected.
For more information on the treatments for hot flashes, click on this link.
- Office on Women's Health. (2010). Early menopause (premature menopause). Retrieved May 29, 2015, from http://womenshealth.gov/menopause/early-premature-menopause/
- Wein, H. (2010). Too Young for Hot Flashes? Retrieved May 29, 2015, from http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/jun2010/feature2