What Causes Hot Flashes?

Just like a lot of things in women’s reproductive health, the exact reason as to why women experience hot flashes during this period is not fully understood. However, we do know that the decrease in estrogen plays a role.

Declining and fluctuating estrogen levels seem to impact the temperature regulation of the body. Body temperature is usually tightly regulated through the hypothalamus.Think of the hypothalamus (located in the brain) as a thermostat for your body.

It is hypothesized that the drop in estrogen can make the body more sensitive to rises in temperature.When the body becomes too warm, the hypothalamus (thermostat) attempts to bring temperature back down into a normal range. This range seems to be narrower with changing estrogen levels. Therefore, slight triggers such as walking into a warm room, eating spicy food, or consuming alcohol can signal the body that temperature has risen too much, and this must be corrected.

You’d think then that we would experience symptoms of feeling cold, if the body is trying to cool us down, but we actually experience the opposite. In This cool-down process is what we call a hot flash and it is the body releasing heat. Blood is brought to the surface and vessels vasodilate to lower core temperature, causing flushing and a rise in skin temperature. Due to the vasodilation, the heart rate increases, causing palpitations in some women. Sweating is another way the body begins to cool down. So, although we call this a ‘hot flash’ it’s actually our body attempting to cool us down.

Why the change in estrogen leads to hot flushes is not clear, however, when estrogen levels are increased through hormonal therapy, hot flashes tend to subside. In other instances where drugs such as tamoxifen are used to block the effects of estrogen in breast cancer patients, patients also suffer from hot flashes. The activation of the estrogen receptors is therefore a technique which can be exploited to decrease symptoms in menopausal women.

If you are trying to tackle your hot flashes, tracking your triggers is a great place to start! This way you can start to limit common things that seem to be increasing that internal body temperature.

Here’s my Ultimate Menopause Symptom Tracker if you’re looking for an organized approach to tracking your menopause symptoms.

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