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: :   HotFlash Central What Is a Hot Flash?

What Is a Hot Flash?

It's lunchtime in the company cafeteria. You're just finishing your spicy leftovers from last night's dinner and slurping the last drops of coffee to fight the afternoon blahs. Co-workers at the table are laughing over a joke, not noticing that under your wool blazer you're suddenly dripping in sweat, drenching your silky blouse, and challenging this morning's carefully applied makeup.What is a Hot Flash

What in the world is this, you wonder? Am I coming down with the flu?

No. That was your first hot flash. Welcome to another phase of menopause.

What is this uninvited intruder, this hot flash?

The Beginning
At some point in every woman's life, reproduction is not an option, most commonly—but not exclusively—due to menopause and its accompanying lack of healthy eggs from the ovary. But first, when you start having irregular periods (your monthly schedule is off and/or your flow becomes heavier or lighter than usual), you've probably entered perimenopause. You can still get pregnant during this phase, but the quality of your eggs is degrading, making conception more difficult. 

You might start experiencing those pesky heat waves during this "pre" menopause stage. Blame it on your estrogen levels fluctuating. Once you've flipped your monthly calendar for one year without having a period, you're officially in menopause.

Along with a decrease in estrogen and eventual cessation of menstruation, two out of three North American women experience some degree of hot flashes, most for more than one year. Compared to women of European descent, African-American women report more hot flashes. Some Asian women report none or few.

The Fire Inside and Out
As your estrogen and progesterone levels decline—either from natural menopause, an oophorectomy (surgical removal of both ovaries), or chemical changes—your brain's hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature among other functions, receives a signal about your body temperature. In response, messages are sent out to the rest of your body to shut off the heat. Blood vessels near the skin surface dilate, and the surface temperature of your skin might even rise. Your sweat glands, which you know work well at the gym or when you're pulling weeds in July, suddenly betray you even during a state of rest, and bam! You're soaked. 

Following the hot flash—which can be very brief or last several minutes—as your skin starts to cool off you likely feel chilled. (You've experienced this hot-to-cold phenomenon when a sweat breaks a fever.)

When erratic hormone levels, such as what occurs during perimenopause, cause disruptions in your hypothalamus, you might experience a number of symptoms other than hot flashes. These could include disruptions in sleep and the fatigue that results, anxiety, depression, reduced interest in sex, and fuzzy thinking, or short-term memory loss.

Many women also experience "night sweats," hot flashes that awaken you from sleep, maybe more than once per night, disturbing your natural sleep pattern and making you a bear at the breakfast table.

Each woman experiences hot flashes differently—some not at all, some with mild flushes, and some with the mother lode as just described. Typically this "passage" occurs between 45-55 years of age. If you're lucky, this part of your life does not intersect with your kids being teenagers, or with a big promotion at work, or with another major stressor.

If you suffer from these often embarrassing and always unwelcome visitors, The HotFlash Network (HFN) is here to help you. ♀

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