Hot flashes at night is a troubling symptom that some women going through perimenopause and menopause report. But, even though hot flashes are generally linked to menopause and changing hormonal levels, this is not the only reason that hot flashes can happen.
Below, we describe hot flashes in more detail, and we also explore potential ways to minimize this symptom.
Hot Flashes Explained
As the name suggests, hot flashes happen when your body suddenly goes from a normal temperature to overly warm or even hot. Often, these hot flashes occur with no warning. During a hot flash, your face, neck, and upper chest will often turn bright red. This reddening of the skin is known as flushing. In addition, it’s not unlikely that your hot flashes will cause sweating.
These hot flashes can happen at any time, but they are particularly common at night when they are sleeping. The vast majority of perimenopausal women experience night sweats, but the exact percentage is open to some debate for various reasons. Often, the person who has a hot flash will not even realize that it happened unless they wake up drenched in sweat. Night sweats are sometimes severe enough to leave your pajamas or sheets soaking wet. If you wake up like this, make sure to change your sheets and pajamas; otherwise, you could get chilled.
In addition to reddened skin and sweating, there may be other signs associated with a hot flash. For example, some people may see their heart rate spike during a hot flash. And, other people may feel nervous or anxious during these episodes.
Hot Flashes Caused By Menopause
The most common cause of hot flashes is perimenopause and menopause. During the menopause journey, women experience drops in their estrogen and progesterone levels. These declines may make it difficult for their bodies to carry out thermoregulation. Thermoregulation refers to the body’s ability to manage and control its own temperature. And, this struggle, in turn, may lead to dreaded hot flashes.
Even though almost all women experience hot flashes during their perimenopause, some women may struggle more with this than others. This may be due to their biology, but lifestyle choices can also contribute to the likelihood of hot flashes. For example, smoking or drinking to excess could raise the odds of having hot flashes.
Hot Flashes at Night Not Caused By Menopause
There are other common causes of hot flashes and night sweats, including cancer. Leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma also cause hot flashes and severe night sweats. Untreated thyroid conditions may also be a common cause of hot flashes.
Even though perimenopause and menopause are the most likely explanation for hot flashes, these are not the only reasons. There are other potential reasons, including some serious ones. Therefore, it is important to tell your health care provider if you are having night sweats so they can decide if you need additional diagnostic testing. Some autoimmune diseases can cause hot flashes, as can anxiety disorders.
Determining If It’s Menopause or Something Else
As we noted above, hot flashes at night are commonly caused by perimenopause or menopause. But, there may be other explanations. And, some of these different explanations require intensive medical care. Therefore, it is crucial to get to the root of your symptoms.
The first step in doing this is to communicate openly with your healthcare provider. Some women are uncomfortable talking about menopause, but your providers need to know what you have been experiencing to diagnose you appropriately. The second step is keeping careful notes about other symptoms that you’re experiencing, as well as the dates of your most recent periods.
Some symptoms that may be important to note include the following:
- vaginal dryness
- unexpected mood swings
- brain fogs
- or changes in the intensity and duration of your menstrual cycles
Equipped with this information, your health care provider can determine if you need any additional testing. But, most likely, if you are in your late 40s or early 50s, which is around the time for menopause, then menopause is probably the reason behind these troubling hot flashes and night sweats.
Preventing Hot Flashes
If you have hot flashes at night, there are treatments available to address it, but it depends on its cause. There are different strategies to pursue if your hot flashes are due to menopause or if they are because of one of the other troubling medical conditions mentioned above. If they are due to one of these other medical conditions, it is important to treat the underlying condition. For someone with leukemia, this may include completing a course of chemotherapy, for example. On the other hand, if it is because of a thyroid condition, then thyroid medication may solve it.
When Menopause is the Cause
Minimizing hot flashes related to perimenopause or menopause may be more complicated. But, as we noted above, some lifestyle choices may worsen hot flashes. In this case, changing these behaviors could lead to an improvement. For example, you should stop smoking, and you should also minimize your alcohol consumption.
Dietary Changes and Supplements
Another important factor to consider is your diet. To reduce unpleasant menopause symptoms and improve your overall health, it’s always best to reduce the amount of fat and sugar in your diet. Skip the fast food and choose healthy and natural options. Some healthy food choices to fight hot flashes include fruits and vegetables, particularly apples and broccoli, and a wide range of whole grains. Some women also benefit from adding soy-rich food into their diets.
Supplements can also make a world of difference during your menopause journey. Consider the following supplements and how they help:
- Black cohosh: reduces hot flashes
- Flaxseed: can balance female hormones, which helps with alleviating night sweats
- Vitamin D: estrogen is in lower supply during menopause, but is useful for bone growth. This vitamin can help promote bone health.
- Ginseng: boosts your mood, improves sleep, and reduces hot flashes
Hormone Replacement Therapy
There are additional medical options too. For example, some women may benefit from starting hormone replacement therapy. This is usually estrogen. Although, hormone replacement therapy has its own risks, such as increasing the likelihood of developing breast cancer, it may be more beneficial than risky depending on each case. Different types of HRT may impact risk profiles differently. Therefore, it is important to carefully discuss the pluses and minuses with your provider. Another option may be starting on an antidepressant at a low dose. Again, there are potential downsides of this approach that need to be considered.
Stellate Ganglion Nerve Block
One other interesting hot flash treatment option is the stellate ganglion nerve block. In this procedure, they’ll inject a numbing agent into the nerves in a woman’s neck. It is not entirely clearly understood why this seems to stop or, at the very least, slow down hot flashes. But, it does appear to work.
Hot Flashes Debunked
Hot flashes and night sweats are some of the most frustrating symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause. It is important to remember that there are many other reasons you may be having these symptoms. Therefore, it is essential to communicate with your medical provider to determine if you need additional testing. No matter what the cause of your hot flashes and night sweats is, there are likely numerous treatment options available to help you.