What is a hot flush, how to prevent one and what is the best treatment to help get through them

Hot flushes are brief, periodic increases in body temperature, often described as a sudden unpleasant sensation of intense. They can occur for many reasons, and are not solely ascribed to menopause. In this piece, we'll go through what a hot flush is, how to prevent one and what the best treatment is for them.

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Hot flushes are brief, periodic increases in body temperature, often described as a sudden unpleasant sensation of intense. They can occur for many reasons, and are not solely ascribed to menopause. Their exact cause is not fully understood, however they are thought to come on due to changes in the hypothalamus.

Your hypothalamus, a structure deep in your brain, acts as your body's smart control coordinating center. Its main function is to keep your body in a stable state called homeostasis. It does its job by directly influencing your autonomic nervous system or by managing hormones.

During perimenopause, oestrogen hormone levels in a woman’s body decrease, and this causes your hypothalamus to be more sensitive to changes in body temperature. The hypothalamus is the body’s thermostat, and when it thinks your body is too warm, it creates the hot flush to try and cool you down.

Despite a hot flush being a common symptom of menopause, it can impact a person's daily life and quality of life significantly. 

What can you expect with a hot flush?

A hot flush can cause the skin in these areas to redden and in some cases lead to an increase in heart rate, which in turn causes intense sweating as the body tries to cool down and regulate its temperature. For some people, alongside hot flushes, they also experience dizziness, heart palpitations, or chills.

When a hot flush comes on, you can expect a sudden feeling of intense heat throughout your body, most commonly in your chest, neck and face. This can cause red, blotchy skin, and often leaves you drenched in sweat.

Hot flushes typically last between 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. When they come on at night, they can wake you up which leads to poor sleep quality, and in turn fatigue and irritability during the day. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell how long this, and other perimenopause symptoms, will last. Some women experience hot flushes for 6 months, others for 10 years or more.

How to prevent a hot flush?

Although we do not know exactly what causes one woman to have hot flushes and another not to, two key risk factors have been identified which increase a woman’s chance of experiencing a hot flush. These are lifestyle factors like smoking, and a high BMI.

Quitting smoking and leading an active, healthy lifestyle with regular exercise (this can even be something like brisk walking on a regular basis) are a few changes that could have a positive impact on your hot flushes.

Other triggers of a hot flush are thought to be spicy foods, caffeine, stress and alcohol, so it could be helpful to try cut down on these too.

It’s a good idea to keep a diary for a few weeks to monitor when your hot flushes occur. This might help you identify if there are any triggers. It’s also useful to know if your flushes become less frequent during certain times – for example, during a period of time when you are exercising regularly or not drinking as much alcohol.​

What's the most effective treatment for a hot flush?

There are several treatment options available for hot flushes. Depending on any other perimenopause symptoms you are experiencing, your treatment plan might look very different to someone else’s. Here are a few treatments that our clinical team recommend:

  • Over-the-counter herbal supplements such as black cohosh and red clover (discuss with a health professional before taking any supplement)​
  • Complementary therapies such as cogitative behavioural therapy, acupuncture or reflexology​​
  • Discuss with your doctor regarding your suitability for hormonal therapy, like hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Read our guide on HRT to find out more.

Speak with your GP or Fertifa Patient Advisor about lifestyle changes, supplements, and medications that can help alleviate hot flush symptoms 💜