Hot Flashes or ‘Flushes’ and Night Sweats are the most recognizable 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.
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.
Hot Flashes affect nearly 80% of menopausal women. 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 has been observed that hot flushes poorly affect the energy levels, quality of sleep, and sexuality.
Hot Flashes do not just occur during the menopause phase. If left untreated, hot flashes may last up until 5 years or more post-menopause. Hence, it is important to find relief, remove the causes, and get appropriate treatment.
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 hot flushes.
Symptoms of Hot Flashes
Each particular episode of hot flash lasts 3 – 10 minutes and episodes can recur with varying frequency. Some women experience this hourly or daily, whereas for others they may occur occasionally.
- 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 Flashes
Most women develop symptoms during the peri-menopausal and early post-menopausal periods. A minority develops the symptoms even during regular menstrual cycles. Similar to the variability in the frequency of this symptom, the age at onset of hot flashes also varies in females.
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. 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.
What is happening to your body during Hot Flushes?
The phenomenon of hot flushes is explained below for normal cases.
- 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.
- In some cases, hot flashes are also followed by palpitations and severe anxiety. This is when the core temperature of your body cools down below the thermoregulatory zone, chills occur. This may also be accompanied by palpitations or anxiety.
Causes of Hot Flashes
Postmenopausal women face the problem of a shortened window of the thermoregulatory zone of the hypothalamus, leading to frequent violations of body core temperature zone, hence episodes of perspiration and chills.
In addition, as estrogen levels decline in menopause leads up to aggravation of the hot flushes. While menopausal women can experience hot flash symptoms several times in a day and in the night; menopause is not the only cause to trigger this condition.
Hot flushes can be experienced in multiple other cases and the severity of the symptoms vary with individual and health condition.
- During adrenal rush caused by fear, anxiety, or embarrassment
- Stressful situations
- 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
Treatment and Management of the Symptoms in Modern Medicine
Estrogen via Hormone Replacement Therapy
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.
- 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, hot flashes are likely to be more frequent, more intense, and more irritating.
Food and Diet to manage Hot Flash Symptoms
- Sweet, sour and salty tastes pacify Vata.
- Eat warm, cooked foods and warm beverages.
- Also, 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.
- Staying away from Smoking and Alcohol consumption as both aggravate Pitta Dosha
- 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
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 hot flash 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.
One study showed that slow-breathing techniques may reduce a small overall sympathetic tone, reducing the frequency of hot flashes 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.
Herbs to pacify the Symptoms
Ayurveda’s most nourishing herbs for menopause are Aloe vera gel, Shatavari, Ashwagandha, Kapikacchu, Triphala, Dashamula, Brahmi, Gotu kola, Vidari, Saffron and Amalaki. Also, fennel and coriander are good for hot flashes.