Hot Flashes or ‘Flushes’ are the most recognisable adverse vasomotor symptoms occurring during perimenopause and after menopause in women. In Ayurveda, hot flash symptoms are considered to happen due to the aggravation of Pitta Dosha.
What are Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes are episodic sensations of heat, intense sweating, and flushing affecting the face and chest. It is generally taken to mean a feeling of warmth passing over all of the body or part of it with the face and neck being the parts usually affected.
The frequency and intensity of the symptoms vary. Hot flushes are a highly uncomfortable and often stressful condition, which often disrupts the daily life of patients. It poorly affects the energy levels, quality of sleep, and sexuality.
What causes Hot Flashes in Menopause?
Hot Flash symptoms affect nearly 80% of menopausal women. Declining estrogen levels during perimenopause poorly affect the functioning of body temperature control by the hypothalamus section in the brain. This leads to frequent violations of body core temperature zone, hence episodes of perspiration and chills or hot flushes.
How long does a Hot Flash last?
Each particular episode of hot flash may last for few seconds or up to 10 minutes or more. Usually hot flash episodes recur with varying frequency. For some women, hot flash events may occur only a few times in a week. While others may experience hot flushes or night sweats hourly or daily, with numbers going til 40 a day.
How does your brain control your body temperature?
The thermoregulatory zone in the hypothalamus section of the brain maintains the core body temperature within a homeostatic range. When the body’s core temperature increases above the upper threshold of the thermoregulatory zone, sweating/perspiration occurs, which allows your body to cool down.
What happens to your body when you have a Hot Flash?
- A Hot Flash may be triggered by simple daily stuff such as spicy food, hot weather, or stress. Hot Flash triggers often tend to increase our body temperature. As the brain is not able to sense and hence act to this change in time, patients often observe heat sensations.
- The delayed action of brain shoots the body temperature. It brings the body temperature back to normal by increasing blood circulation and causing perspiration. If this action doesn’t go well, patients may experience palpitations and severe anxiety.
- When the core temperature of your body cools down below the thermoregulatory zone, chills occur.
What are Night Sweats?
When hot flushes occur in the night, it is termed as Night Sweats and is associated with marked perspiration. The level of discomfort is high and it often disturbs the sleep of women, who may have already been struggling with insomnia. Night sweats, when they do occur, are almost always associated with day-time observance of hot flashes.
What are the triggers of Hot Flashes? What can cause hot flashes other than menopause?
While menopausal women can experience the symptoms several times in a day and in the night; menopause is not the only cause to trigger this condition. Hot flashes can be experienced in multiple other cases and the severity of the symptoms vary with individual and health condition. Also, it has been observed that smoking aggravates the symptoms and increases the frequency of hot flash.
- During adrenal rush caused by fear, anxiety, or embarrassment
- Stress caused by mental or physical factors
- Constriction of heat flow from the body due to unventilated warm set-up or tight clothing
- During pregnancy
- Certain medications such as androgen deprivation therapy in males or Lupron for infertility treatment
- Certain foods such as Spicy food, Sour foods, or Astringent Foods
At what age do hot flashes start?
Hot Flash symptoms typically start during the perimenopause phase, which is 5 – 6 years before menopause. Usually women in their early to mid 40s may start to experience the vasomotor symptoms such as heat sensations, hot flushes, or night sweats. For some who experience early menopause, the hot flash symptoms may even be visible in their late 30s.
When do Hot Flashes end?
Vasomotor symptoms of hot flushes and night sweats do not just occur during the perimenopause phase. If left untreated, the symptoms may last up until 10 years or more post-menopause. The majority of the women suffer from hot flash symptoms for 1 – 2 years. However, approximately 15% may have persistent symptoms for up to 30 years.
Hence, it is important to find relief through natural measures, remove the causes and triggers, and get appropriate treatment.
What are Hot Flashes Symptoms? How do I know if I’m having a hot flash?
Following steps list down a typical sequence of the symptoms faced by anyone who is experiencing a hot flash:
- The intense heat in the upper body including the upper arms, face, neck, and chest
- Flushing of the skin follows
- Profuse Sweating
- Followed by chills
- Hot flash symptoms are often accompanied by tingling in fingers, palpitations, and anxiety
Primary Risk Group for Hot Flushes
Most women develop symptoms during the peri-menopausal and early post-menopausal periods. A minority of women develop the symptoms even during regular menstrual cycles. Similar to the variability in the frequency of this symptom, the age at onset of symptoms also varies in females.
Hot flash symptoms affect 40 – 85% of all women, being more frequent and severe in breast cancer survivors and women with chemotherapy-induced ovarian failure. This is because these women receive multiple treatment options that can induce an estrogen deprivation state.
For men, the phenomenon of hot flash often occurs as a result of medical or surgical treatment for prostate cancer. Up to 75% of men treated with androgen deprivation therapy may experience hot flashes.
Hot Flash Treatment in Modern Medicine
Modern medicine does not provide specific hot flash treatment, however there are several options provided to manage the symptoms or lower down the intensity of inconvenience caused by intense symptoms. HRT or hormone replacement therapy via Estrogen or Progesterone or combined is one of them. Other alternatives such as behavioral modifications, hypnosis, natural diet, and herbs are also suggested to elevate the symptoms.
1. Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT
Estrogen is widely used to alleviate the vasomotor symptoms as hot flushes. It is effective in improving hot flashes caused by natural menopause and those induced by chemotherapy. However, its side effects can lead to breast cancer itself especially when combined with Progestin.
2. Behavioral Modifications
- Stress management techniques such as meditation, walking in nature, and pursuing hobbies that relax the mind are highly effective.
- Also, patients should maintain a low core body temperature by wearing loose clothes in layers and avoiding tight clothing.
- Consuming cool or cold food or drinks.
- Staying in well-ventilated places and avoiding the triggers.
Hot Flashes – An Ayurvedic View and Management
In Ayurveda, Hot Flashes are one of the symptoms of menopause. Although it is hot, it happens due to Vata imbalance approaching the Vata stage in life. If Pitta Dosha has accumulated over the years, the symptoms are likely to be more frequent, more intense, and more irritating.
What are the Foods and Diet for Hot Flashes?
- One should prefer Sweet, sour and salty tastes to pacify Vata symptoms.
- Warm and cooked foods, and warm beverages should be consumed to prevent Dosha imbalance. It also calms the mind and nurtures the body.
- Choose soft, unctuous foods like cooked grains, cooked vegetables, cooked cereals, and soups over crunchy dry foods.
- Incorporate healthy oils into your cooking including olive oil, sunflower oil, and organic sesame oil.
- Stay away from Smoking and Alcohol consumption as both aggravate Pitta Dosha, which is considered to be primary Dosha causing the symptoms.
- Inclusion of herbs and spices to calm the Dosha in your diet and lifestyle.
- Avoiding Caffeine
- Avoiding Spicy and Hot foods as they aggravate Pitta Dosha
Natural Remedies and Lifestyle Tips to prevent Hot Flash Symptoms
- Practice stress-reducing activities as yoga, pranayama and meditation starting from a young age. This will help to ease the transition into the menopausal years later in their life and also help to prevent the onset and reduce the frequency of symptoms.
- Maintain the dosha balance from an early age by minimizing foods and activities that aggravate Pitta Dosha and Vata Dosha in specific.
- It is important to create routines and rituals around mealtime. This goes back to treating the underlying symptoms.
- Establish regular meal times in a quiet pleasing environment where you give yourself the opportunity to savor both the meal and the ritual that surrounds. This will help in reducing stress in your daily life. It will also regulate the inner rhythms of your hormones, blood pressure and even body temperature.
- Daily Abhyanga, gentle massage of feet, head, and body is one of the best ways to keep Vata under control.
Can Exercise help with Hot Flashes?
One study showed that slow-breathing techniques may reduce a small overall sympathetic tone, reducing the frequency by 35% more than muscle relaxation alone.
- Relaxing physical activities that include nature walks, swimming, slow walking, bicycling are highly helpful to manage the symptoms.
- However, extreme physical activity and only cardio-based exercises can increase the severity of the symptoms in postmenopausal, especially in overweight women.
- It is theorised that extreme activity increases the core body temperature, thus resulting in hot flashes in patients with a narrow thermo-neutral zone.
- Do the exercise as part of your life starting in your 20’s to have healthier bones when you are in your 50’s and beyond.
Which Herbs are good for Hot Flash Symptoms
Ayurveda’s most nourishing herbs for menopause are:
- Aloe vera gel
- Gotu kola