75% of menopausal woman suffer from hot flushes, often experienced as a ‘creeping’ feeling of intense warmth or heat which suffuses the face and upper body and may be accompanied by sweating and reddening of the skin. Occasionally, though, they may be symptomatic of a more serious underlying medical condition, or signal the development of an unusual allergy or sensitivity. Find out what could be causing yours, and what you can do about them…
1. Prescription medication
Hot flushes may be a side effect of certain medications, often those prescribed for pain, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety or hormonal conditions. Tramadol, steroids and opioid-based medication are common culprits.
2. Diet and weight
Spicy foods dilate blood vessels and stimulate nerve endings, triggering hot flushes in some people. Hot flushes may also signal the development of a sensitivity to alcohol, sugar, caffeine or MSG – a response which can develop at any stage of life. Overweight and obese women are more prone to hot flushes, whether or not they are menopausal.
Hot flushes are particularly common during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, thanks to hormonal changes. Some new mothers will continue to experience them after giving birth.
Hormonal reactions to stress and anxiety trigger hot flushes in some people – this response appears to be more common in women.
Any infection which causes fever (e.g. a urinary tract infection) can trigger hot flush symptoms.
An overactive thyroid can give rise to hot flushes. Hyperthyroidism is also associated with unexpected weight loss and changes in bowel patterns.
7. Heart problems
Experts have linked abnormal heart function with hot flush symptoms.
8. Cancer and cancer treatment
Hot flushes are sometimes a symptom of breast cancer, leukaemia, lymphoma or carcinoid syndrome (a condition in which a neuroendocrine tumour releases chemicals into the body which cause hot flush symptoms). They can also be caused by cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and tamoxifen (often used to treat breast cancer), which can lower oestrogen levels. 7 out of 10 women who’ve undergone treatment for breast cancer experience hot flushes.
Tuberculosis can cause hot flushes and night sweats.
10. The male menopause
Men may experience mid-life hot flushes as a result of decreasing testosterone levels – sometimes referred to as the ‘andropause’. They’re also commonly experienced by men undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
What can you do?
Taking regular exercise, quitting smoking and limiting spicy foods, alcohol, coffee and tea may help.
Reducing the temperature of baths and showers, wearing light layers, sleeping in layered sheets and carrying a cool water spray can help to minimise symptoms.
If you’re also suffering from symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, weight loss or diarrhoea, you should visit your GP to ascertain whether your hot flushes could be symptomatic of a more serious underlying condition.
If you believe that you may be experiencing a reaction to prescription medication, discuss whether changing timing or dosage might help.