A hot flash is a sudden feeling of warmth usually in the upper part of the body. It is usually most intensely felt over the face, neck, and chest. In some cases, the skin may even turn red, similar to what happens when you are blushing. A hot flash can also cause sweating. Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of menopause. Menopause can be a challenging phase for all women to deal with as it usually tends to creep up on you when you least expect it.(1, 2)
Hot flashes and night sweats are two of the most common symptoms of menopause, affecting nearly three-quarters of all women who are going through perimenopause, or the time period before the actual onset of menopause. After reaching the stage of menopause, these hot flashes may still continue for any amount of time. It may continue for six months or sometimes even up to five years, or even ten years and longer.(3, 4)
While experts are not really sure as to what causes these hot flashes during menopause, it is commonly believed that hormonal changes that affect the temperature-regulation part of the brain, or the hypothalamus, are responsible for it. These hormonal changes reduce the range of temperatures that the hypothalamus is able to tolerate, causing it to overreact to even the slightest of increase or decrease in temperature. At the same time, certain brain chemicals known as the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine are also believed to play a role.(5, 6)
Equally confusing as the causes of hot flashes are what triggers them off, to begin with. Here are some of the possible triggers for hot flashes in menopause.
Triggers for Hot Flashes during Menopause
Red Wine or Alcohol
Drinking red wine or any other type of alcohol can be responsible for triggering hot flashes in women who are menopausal. This is because drinking alcohol causes the blood vessels underneath the skin to dilate or widen, a process known as vasodilation. It also causes your heart rate to speed up. The process of vasodilation causes more blood to flow to the skin, causing it to feel warm to the touch and flushed. The body does this in an attempt to get rid of the perceived excess heat, causing you to feel flushed. The widening of the blood vessels is actually the body’s natural way of trying to cool itself down after drinking alcohol.(7, 8)
To prevent this or cope with it, it is best to switch from drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverage to a non-alcoholic alternative. This does not mean that you have to restrict yourself from drinking alcohol completely. If red wine seems to trigger your hot flashes, you can try to have white wine or also attempt to water down your wine with fresh fruit, ice cubes, or juice.
If you love having spicy foods, it might surprise you to know that your love for spice might be causing you to feel all flushed. When you are going through menopause, it is usually recommended that you limit your intake of spicy or hot foods. This is because spicy foods are not considered to be good for hormonal imbalances. They can further aggravate any existing normal issues and also worsen the symptoms of menopause. This is because the nerve endings get stimulated by spicy foods, causing the process of vasodilation, leading to hot flashes.(9, 10)
If you want to avoid this, it is generally recommended that you try to limit or at least reduce your consumption of spicy curries, peppers, and other such spicy foods. Hot peppers such as serranos, habaneros, and jalapenos should also be avoided as they contain capsaicin, which is a heat-producing compound. You can always experiment with similar, but less spicy ingredients at home to see what strikes your taste buds without triggering the hot flashes.
Now, this may surprise many out there to learn that too much exercising can actually be a trigger for your hot flashes. While regular exercise is necessary to keep the symptoms of menopause under control, too much of exercising can trigger hot flashes. This is because strenuous physical activity increases your heart rate significantly, which, while great for your overall health, increases your body temperature, setting off a hot flash.
This does not mean, though, that you should stop exercising altogether. Continue to exercise, but pay attention to not getting overheated. Try to work out in front of a fan or source of ventilation whenever possible. You can even consider carrying a small battery-operated fan with you when going to your workout. Remember that exercising under even a slight breeze can help keep your skin cooler. You may even consider keeping a misting facial spray with you while working out.
Having your regular morning cup of coffee may also become a potential trigger for hot flashes when you are going through menopause. It is believed that hot flashes tend to occur in part because of the decreased tolerance of the body’s thermoregulatory mechanism as we age and enter menopause. This means drinking a hot beverage may very well cause the body to kick start the process of vasodilation, thinking you need to cool down.
At the same time, caffeine is another culprit. Caffeine is a stimulant that is believed to be linked to not only hot flashes but some other symptoms of menopause as well.
However, research on the link between caffeine and menopausal symptoms has provided conflicting results. Nevertheless, one study did establish that post-menopausal women who frequently drank coffee, tea, or any other beverage with caffeine, experienced more troublesome symptoms of menopause, including more intense hot flashes as compared to those post-menopausal women who did not consume caffeine.(11, 12)
So if you regularly caffeine and you find yourself experiencing hot flashes, you should consider cutting down on the number of cups you have in a day or try to eliminate caffeine completely from your diet to see if there is an improvement in your symptoms.(13)
One of the most surprising effects of smoking on menopause has to be that women who smoke regularly are more likely to enter menopause around a year before those who are non-smokers. This time period can actually go up to two years for those who are heavy smokers.(14, 15, 16)
Smoking is known to aggravate the symptoms of menopause, especially hot flashes and night sweats. At the same time, the effects of smoking tend to last long after the hot flashes have stopped. Though it is still not really clear why women who smoke are more likely to experience hot flashes, but it is believed that smoking a cigarette increases your heart rate, thus speeding up the blood flow.(17)
This is why it is best to try and quit the habit of smoking. If you find yourself unable to quit, it is a good idea to seek help from a professional.
It is generally believed that the hormonal changes your body goes through during menopause cause hot flashes. Apart from the triggers discussed here, there can be many other causes of these hot flashes, with the triggers varying from person to person as well. Some of the other common triggers for hot flashes may include certain medical conditions like diabetes, eating disorders, certain types of birth control, tumors, wearing tight clothes, thyroid issues, stress and anxiety, and even being in a warm room.
It is possible for most people to manage these hot flashes at home with some effective coping strategies and by avoiding the known triggers.
- Greendale, G.A., Lee, N.P. and Arriola, E.R., 1999. The menopause. The Lancet, 353(9152), pp.571-580.
- Mckinlay, S.M., 1996. The normal menopause transition: an overview. Maturitas, 23(2), pp.137-145.
- McKinlay, S.M., Brambilla, D.J. and Posner, J.G., 1992. The normal menopause transition. Maturitas, 14(2), pp.103-115.
- Hot flashes (no date) Hot Flashes, Sexual Side Effects of Menopause | The North American Menopause Society, NAMS. Available at: http://www.menopause.org/for-women/sexual-health-menopause-online/causes-of-sexual-problems/hot-flashes (Accessed: January 30, 2023).
- Freedman, R.R., 2005, May. Pathophysiology and treatment of menopausal hot flashes. In Seminars in reproductive medicine (Vol. 23, No. 02, pp. 117-125). Copyright© 2005 by Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc., 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA.
- Freedman, R.R., 2014. Menopausal hot flashes: mechanisms, endocrinology, treatment. The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology, 142, pp.115-120.
- Schwingl, P.J., Hulka, B.S. and Harlow, S.D., 1994. Risk factors for menopausal hot flashes. Obstetrics and gynecology, 84(1), pp.29-34.
- Smith, R.L., Gallicchio, L., Miller, S.R., Zacur, H.A. and Flaws, J.A., 2016. Risk factors for extended duration and timing of peak severity of hot flashes. PloS one, 11(5), p.e0155079.
- Mohyi, D., Tabassi, K. and Simon, J., 1997. Differential diagnosis of hot flashes. Maturitas, 27(3), pp.203-214.
- Sturdee, D.W., 2008. The menopausal hot flush—anything new?. Maturitas, 60(1), pp.42-49.
- Faubion, S.S., Sood, R., Thielen, J.M. and Shuster, L.T., 2015. Caffeine and menopausal symptoms: what is the association?. Menopause, 22(2), pp.155-158.
- Kinney, A., Kline, J. and Levin, B., 2006. Alcohol, caffeine and smoking in relation to age at menopause. Maturitas, 54(1), pp.27-38.
- Waer, F.B., Laatar, R., Jouira, G., Srihi, S., Rebai, H. and Sahli, S., 2021. Functional and cognitive responses to caffeine intake in middle-aged women are dose depending. Behavioural Brain Research, 397, p.112956.
- Harlow, B.L. and Signorello, L.B., 2000. Factors associated with early menopause. Maturitas, 35(1), pp.3-9.
- Mikkelsen, T.F., Graff-Iversen, S., Sundby, J. and Bjertness, E., 2007. Early menopause, association with tobacco smoking, coffee consumption and other lifestyle factors: a cross-sectional study. BMC public health, 7, pp.1-8.
- Whitcomb, B.W., Purdue-Smithe, A.C., Szegda, K.L., Boutot, M.E., Hankinson, S.E., Manson, J.E., Rosner, B., Willett, W.C., Eliassen, A.H. and Bertone-Johnson, E.R., 2018.
- Cigarette smoking and risk of early natural menopause. American journal of epidemiology, 187(4), pp.696-704.
- Ramakrishnan, S., Bhatt, K., Dubey, A.K., Roy, A., Singh, S., Naik, N., Seth, S. and Bhargava, B., 2013. Acute electrocardiographic changes during smoking: an observational study. BMJ open, 3(4), p.e002486.
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