By Claire Crick
75% of menopausal woman suffer from hot flushes, and we expect them in that life stage.
But what if you are still having hot flushes after menopause? And what if you are not menopausal full stop? What causes hot flushes apart from the menopause?
Hot flushes can be symptomatic of a more serious underlying medical condition. They may signal the development of an unusual allergy or sensitivity. And sometimes they are a side effect of prescribed medicine. Find out what could be causing yours...
What are hot flushes?
Hot flushes are often described as a 'creeping' feeling of intense warmth or heat which suffuses the face and upper body. They may also be accompanied by sweating and reddening of the skin.
Along with menopausal weight gain, restless nights and mood swings, they're often a side effect of the menopause.
What causes hot flushes apart from the menopause?
Hot flushes and night sweats aren't just a symptom of the menopause - they can occur for a variety of reasons, from the medication you're taking, to lifestyle factors. So what causes hot flushes apart from the menopause?
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.
Like with most things, not all medications affect people in the same way, so something that will cause a hot flush in one person, might not necessarily cause you to experience the same side effects.
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, due to hormonal changes. Some new mothers will also continue to experience them after giving birth as the body's hormone balance readjusts.
Hormonal reactions to stress and anxiety trigger hot flushes in some people and research has found that this reaction seems to be more common in women. As well as hot flushes, stress can also trigger a rapid heart rate and even profuse sweating as the body tries to cool down after sudden intense heat.
Any infection which causes a fever can trigger hot flush symptoms. Issues such asa urinary tract infection could create hot flushes as the body's temperature raises as it tries to kill off the viral or bacterial infection.
If you are experiencing a fever thanks to an infection, it is also likely that you will get fatigue, joint aches and sweating.
An overactive thyroid can cause hot flushes. According to the British Thyroid Foundation, too much of the thyroid hormone can cause excessive sweating, meaning menopausal sweating and thyroid symptoms can seem similar. To differentiate between the two, a blood test for thyroid function is usually performed.
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, and it is thought that the abnormal changes in the heart's pumping action can bring on hot flushes.
Although inconclusive, tests have also shown there could be a link between menopausal hot flushes and heart disease, with the chances of developing heart problems becoming increased if you continued experiencing hot flushes several years after the menopause.
8. Cancer and cancer treatment
Hot flushes are sometimes a lesser-known 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). But hot flushes can also be caused by cancer treatment too, including chemotherapy and tamoxifen (a common breast cancer treatment).
Seven out of ten women who've undergone treatment for breast cancer experience hot flushes.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection which mainly affects lungs. But as well as a persistent cough, TB can also be a trigger for hot flushes and night sweats. The body's temperature is raised significantly when suffering from Tuberculosis, causing you to sweat more as your body tries to cool down.
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 because of the hormone therapy used.
How to stop hot flushes
- See your doctor to make sure there is no underlying medical condition causing your hot flushes, particularly if you're also suffering from symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, weight loss or diarrhoea
- Check the listed side effects of all of your current medication. If hot flushes are listed as a side effect then discuss your prescription with your doctor. There may be a suitable alternative, or changing timing or dosage might help
- Keep a food diary. This will help you identify whether certain foods or ingredients are triggers
- Track when you have a hot flush. Write down where you were and what you were doing. This might reveal patterns or environmental factors that are causing them
- Make time for yourself. Scientists have identified a link between hot flushes and stress
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce your alcohol intake and if you are a smoker, quit
- Limiting spicy foods and caffeine
- Reducing the temperature of baths and showers
- Wearing light layers
- Sleeping in layered sheets
- Carrying a cool water spray for on-the-go hydration
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