Most women will experience hot flushes when going through the menopause.
They're often described as a sudden feeling of heat that seems to come from nowhere and spreads throughout the body.
Some women only have occasional hot flushes that do not really bother them, while others can have many a day and find them uncomfortable, disruptive and embarrassing.
Hot flushes can start a few months or years before your periods stop (before you start the menopause) and usually continue for several years after your last period.
Causes of hot flushes
Hot flushes usually affect women who are approaching the menopause and are thought to be caused by changes in your hormone levels affecting your body's temperature control.
They can happen without warning throughout the day and night, but can also be triggered by:
- eating spicy foods
- caffeine and alcohol
- wearing thick clothing
- a high temperature
- feeling stressed or anxious
- treatment for certain types of cancer (this can affect both men and women)
- certain medicines
- some health conditions, such as an overactive thyroid, diabetes and tuberculosis
Is a hot flush anything to worry about?
Hot flushes are usually harmless. But you should talk to your GP if you're having other symptoms as well, such as feeling generally unwell, fatigue, weakness, weight loss or diarrhoea.
What does a hot flush feel like?
Women often describe a hot flush as a creeping feeling of intense warmth that quickly spreads across your whole body and face.
It typically lasts for several minutes. Others say the warmth is similar to the sensation of being under a sun bed, or feeling like a furnace.
The website healthtalk.org has several videos where women describe what a hot flush feels like.
Treatments for hot flushes
Many women learn to live with menopause-related hot flushes, but if they're really bothering you and interfering with your day-to-day life, talk to a GP about treatments that may help.
The most effective treatment for hot flushes is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which usually completely gets rid of them. Your doctor will talk to you about the benefits and risks of using HRT.
If you have had a type of cancer that's sensitive to hormones, such as breast cancer, your doctor will not recommend HRT and will talk to you about alternatives.
Other medicines have been shown to help, including some antidepressants and a medicine called clonidine.
Tips for reducing hot flushes
You can try these tips to ease your symptoms:
- cut out or reduce coffee and tea
- stop smoking
- keep the room cool and use a fan (electric or handheld) if necessary
- if you feel a flush coming on, spray your face with cool water or use a cold gel pack (available from pharmacies)
- wear loose layers of light cotton or silk clothes so you can easily take some clothes off if you overheat
- have layers of sheets on the bed, rather than a duvet, so you can remove them as you need to
- cut down on alcohol
- sip cold or iced drinks
- have a lukewarm shower or bath instead of a hot one
- if medicine is causing your hot flushes, talk to your doctor about other ways you can take it to avoid this side effect
Complementary therapies for hot flushes
Women often turn to complementary therapies as a "natural" way to treat their hot flushes.
There's some evidence that isoflavones or black cohosh may help reduce hot flushes.
But the research is patchy, the quality of the products can vary considerably, they can interfere with some medicines, and they can have side effects (for example, liver damage has been reported with black cohosh).
It's important to talk to your doctor before you take a complementary therapy.