Hot flashes are one of the most common and well-documented symptoms of menopause. Hot flashes can have a number of triggers. The role of alcohol in exacerbating or causing episodes of hot flashes is not well understood, and many women continue to drink throughout menopause without realizing it may have an adverse impact on their symptoms and overall experience.
What Is a Hot Flash?
Hot flashes occur when there is a slight malfunction with the body's response to regulating temperature. They are characterized by a brief rush of intense heat, normally in the upper body, that can leave a woman flushed, red, and overly warm. They are generally accompanied by other symptoms, such as increased heart rate, vertigo, breathlessness, and mild confusion. Almost three quarters of menopausal women will experience hot flashes.
How Is Alcohol Related to Hot Flashes?
Drinking alcohol increases body heat and flushing. When the brain detects an increase in temperature, a signal is sent to release compounds that cause the skin's blood vessels to dilate and dissipate excess heat. In women already prone to hot flashes, alcohol consumption could easily trigger one.
In a study published in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility, researchers examined the influence of alcohol consumption on hot flashes among middle aged women, and found that women who consumed more than three drinks a month were more likely to experience a recurrence in hot flashes. Conversely, moderate alcohol consumption (three drinks or fewer per month) actually reduced the severity and frequency of hot flashes by 25%.
However, the relationship between alcohol and hot flashes could be even more complex. The likelihood of alcohol triggering a flash is also influenced by a woman's current stage of menopause, with perimenopausal and postmenopausal women tending to experience more hot flashes.
Risks of Alcohol Consumption
Extensive, prolonged, or heavy alcohol consumption at any point in time is a health risk. However, during the perimenopausal and postmenopausal years, the risk of even moderate amounts of alcohol increases.
Liver damage is the main problem associated with excessive alcohol intake, but it also puts people at increased risk of developing osteoporosis. Women's bone density decreases sharply during menopause, and osteoporosis is a common problem for many regardless of alcohol intake; therefore, the risk of developing the condition increases more in women of menopausal age. In addition, regular alcohol consumption can sharply increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, among other serious health concerns.
While it may be tempting to relax after a long day with a glass of wine, it's important to understand alcohol's negative effects on menopausal symptoms and how it can exacerbate them.
For many women, hot flashes are an inevitable part of menopause, but with some knowledge about triggers, you can combat hot flashes. There are several ways to deal with them, ranging from lifestyle adjustments, such as avoiding alcohol, to medication and alternative remedies. Read further for more information about treatments for hot flashes.
- Sikon, Andrea and Holly Thacker M.D. "Treatment for Menopausal Hot Flashes". Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. July 2004: 71 (7).
- "Hot flashes ... in January". Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2004: 170 (1).
- Miller, Heather and Rose Maria Li, M.D. "Measuring Hot Flashes: Summary of a National Institutes of Health Workshop". Conference report. Mayo Clinic. June 2004: 79