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The Hot-Flash Culprit

Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of menopause. They are so common, in fact, that they are experienced by almost every woman who goes through menopause. Unfortunately, this doesn't make them any easier to deal with. If you're a woman going through hot flashes, knowing what causes them and understanding how to deal with them is half the battle of menopause.

The Basics
Estrogen, the female hormone, serves a woman well from the time as a young girl she starts menstruating and developing breasts until the day comes when this substance starts to wane. Estrogen has three components: estrone (E1); estradiol (E2),
estradiolestrogen's workhorse that enables your menstrual cycle, prepares the uterus for conception, and affects bone health; and estriol (E3). It's the estradiol that fluctuates wildly during perimenopause, causing hot flashes and other symptoms. As a woman enters perimenopause and menopause, her body inevitably begins to produce less estrogen. As estrogen levels decrease, hot flashes, or sudden waves of heat, engulf the upper body, often causing redness of the skin in the chest, neck, and face and often accompanied by perspiration. If your estrogen levels drop gradually over time, your hot flashes are likely to be relatively mild. Conversely, if estrogen production drops off sharply, the severity of the hot flashes are likely to be much more intense.

A Closer Look
Now that you have a basic understanding of the cause of hot flashes, let's take a closer look at what's happening physiologically in your body to cause these spells. Your body has a temperature range that it needs to stay in to function normally. Once you exceed a certain temperature, your body takes measures to cool you down, such as opening blood vessels, causing the body to sweat. When you drop below a certain temperature, your body takes steps, such as shivering, to warm you back up.
These reactions are regulated by your body's built-in thermostat.HFN 003 HFCulprit 1 24389346It is believed by some doctors that the thermostat in perimenopausal and menopausal women going through hot flashes operates on a narrower range, thereby triggering a reaction much more easily. Therefore, when the core body temperature increases, even slightly, a hot flash is triggered as a way to cool the body down.

What Can Be Done?
When looking for ways to combat hot flashes, it is a good idea to understand how your daily behavior can have an effect on the frequency and severity of your symptoms. Heavy use of tobacco and alcohol will usually add to the intensity of hot flashes and should be avoided. If possible, do your best to avoid high stress situations, as stress can trigger hot flashes and intensify the flashes you're already having. Dressing in layers is also advisable. For example, if you're wearing a shirt on top of a tank top, you can quickly remove your shirt when you feel a hot flash coming on. For a more in-depth look at dealing with hot flashes, please visit our section on Treatments &Therapies, where HFN provides a selection of articles on both Clinical and Alternative treatments, and our Lifestyle section, offering a number of ways to counteract these spontaneous eruptions in your life.

Remember, there is no substitute for an in-person visit with your doctor. If your hot flashes have reached a boiling point, don't hesitate to have a chat with your physician. He or she can provide personalized information on dealing with your symptoms, as well as offer insight for a more comfortable future.

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