Hot flashes are a very common symptom of menopause that affect the majority of menopausal women. Though less common, it is very possible for women to experience these surges of heat before and after “the change” as well. Typically, women finish their cycle in their late 40s or early 50s. It is possible; however, for hot flashes to continue all the way into a women's 70s. The effects, such as rapid heartbeat and extreme body heat, are largely the same, as are the causes of postmenopausal hot flashes.
Hormones a factor during perimenopause (the stage leading to menopause) and menopause. This is because during that time, your sex hormone levels of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone are significantly shifting. Although sex hormone levels tend to even out after menopause, there are still many women who experience hormonal hot flashes anyway. When your estrogen levels are low, the hypothalamus in the brain is alerted, after which point your body releases adrenaline into your system. This causes higher body temperature, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, and redness.
Inactivity is a main contributing factor to hot flashes. Especially as you get older, it may become a little more difficult to be as active as you were in the past. However, when your body moves, it will be able to maintain balanced circulation to prevent hot flashes, or handle them better when they arise.
This is also crucial because women with a high body mass index (BMI) are significantly more likely to have severe hot flashes. Low-impact cardio such as swimming, the elliptical machine at a gym, or brisk walking in the park are great choices. 30 minutes in 10-minute intervals daily is ideal during postmenopause.
Stress can double the severity of your hot flashes. It is important to know how to cope with anxiety in order to keep it from causing panicky hot flashes. Practice 15 minutes of slow breathing every day. Take a five-second exhale deep into your stomach, which feels almost like a yawn, and then exhale completely for five seconds. Doing this every day will improve the way you respond to hot flashes.
Also, you can combine movement with relaxation through a gentle yoga session. This can help regulate body temperature and release gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which induces tranquility.
Having an abundance of sugary foods will cause your blood sugar to spike, which in some women triggers more frequent attacks. Try to replace dessert foods or candy with fruits. Spicy foods can also directly increase body temperature. The effects of spices can peak two to three hours after an episode, so some women do not realize that it is the culprit. You may want to remove cayenne, black pepper, red chili, wasabi, and hot mustard from your meals for now.
During postmenopause, hot flashes are most likely due to a combination of low hormone levels and lifestyle triggers. Take a look at how much physical activity you get, how much stress is in your life, and what foods you frequently consume. You may find a pattern between your choices and the flashes, but there are subtle adjustments you can make to find relief.
- Harvard University. (2011). Understanding the Stress Response. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2011/March/understanding-the-stress-response
- Sood, R. et al. (2013). Paced Breathing Compared with Usual Breathing for Hot Flashes. Menopause, 20(2), 179-184. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e31826934b6
- Streeter, C.C. et al. (2010). Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(11), 1145-1152. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0007