According to the National Library of Medicine in Singapore, at least 17.6% of Singaporean women aged 40-60 experience hot flushes.
So what are hot flushes?
As the term implies, hot flushes are characterised by a sudden feeling of heat thought to be caused by the body’s reduced ability to control internal temperature. The heat usually spreads throughout the body and lasts several minutes. Sweating, heart palpitations, and reddening or flushing of the face and neck often also occur.
Hot Flushes and Menopause
Hot flushes are most common during menopause. The severity of the symptoms differ amongst individuals. For some women, hot flushes are only an occasional occurrence and do not disrupt their daily lives. Others may have numerous episodes within a single day and find them uncomfortable, disruptive, and embarrassing.
Hot flushes can start during perimenopause, usually between the ages of 30 and 40 when a woman's estrogen level starts to decrease. However, most women will experience hot flushes as menopause sets in, and the symptoms may continue for several years after their last period.
Hormonal changes that signal the arrival of menopause are thought to be the primary cause of hot flushes. As a woman approaches menopause, the ovaries gradually produce lower levels of estrogen until they stop production altogether -- which is when menopause begins. Most experts believe that the changes in hormone levels affect the body’s temperature control, thereby causing spontaneous hot flushes.
Low Estrogen Levels
Estrogen levels have a direct relationship with our hypothalamus, a part of our brain that controls our body temperature amongst other functions, which include sleep cycles, sex hormones, and appetite.The drastic drop in estrogen levels during menopause confuses the hypothalamus, making it less effective at controlling body temperature.
A hot flush starts when the hypothalamus “reads” our normal body temperature as “too hot.” This triggers the brain to broadcast signals informing the nervous system, heart, and blood vessels to get rid of the excess heat. Instantaneously, our heart pumps faster, and the blood vessels in our skin dilate as the sweat glands start to release more sweat to cool our body down further.
The body’s response to the initial signal triggered by the hypothalamus makes up the characteristic symptoms of hot flushes: breaking out in sweat, chills, and rapid heart rate. This heat-releasing mechanism is how our body operates to keep us cool during hot days. However, when the process is triggered by a drop in estrogen levels, the brain becomes confused and creates conditions that lead to uncomfortable episodes of hot flushes.
When hot flushes occur during the night while sleeping, they're called night sweats. They have been known to cause extreme sleep disruptions and irregular sleep patterns, causing great discomfort while sleeping and waking women up numerous times at night. Some women may develop insomnia; when their night sweats occur right before bedtime, it becomes difficult for them to go to sleep.
What Else Can Trigger Hot Flushes?
Hot flushes may occur at any time of the day or night and usually without any warning, but they can also be triggered by
Consuming spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol
Wearing thick clothing
High environmental temperature
Feeling stressed or anxious
Aside from the discomfort, many women find these symptoms embarrassing and even frustrating. But we, at Nomeno, are here to remind you that hot flushes are perfectly normal, and so are your unpleasant feelings also valid. We encourage you to be confident in the management of your health. We know that female hormones are the foundation of a woman’s health and their effects on our body when they go out of balance should not be underestimated. Fortunately, the power to manage your hormone health is also in your hands.