Hot flashes are common for menopausal women, but sometimes they’re not caused by menopause. In fact, there are several underlying problems that can cause hot flashes whether you are menopausal or not. It’s important to know what these are so that you can get help treating the real underlying problem.
Before we start explaining these, though, what is a hot flash? It’s a sudden feeling of warmth, usually most intense around the face, neck, and chest. Your veins close to the skin dilate and blood rushes to them, therefore creating a sensation of heat, while the blood simultaneously gets cooled down. You might perspire, especially on your upper body; when the hot flash is over, you may feel chilly.
No one knows the exact origin of hot flashes, but it’s believed when it comes to menopause that it’s related to changes in reproductive hormones and in the body’s thermostat (hypothalamus). (6)
Below is a list of things that can cause hot flashes. Some of these work in conjunction with menopause—that is to say, you likely won’t get the hot flashes unless you are also menopausal, but by curing the underlying problem, the hot flashes may go away, even if you are menopausal.
1. Depression and Anxiety
Anxiety and stress, which can be brought on by depression and vice versa, can cause hot flashes. It’s similar to when you feel really nervous and start sweating, only it might happen more randomly when you suffer from depression, stress, or anxiety. If you feel you have more mood swings or stress than regularly, or you don’t feel as happy as normal, consider getting help. Both therapy and lifestyle changes (such as eating well, exercising, being social, and meditating) can help you overcome stress and depression. (1)
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One of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) is hot flashes. Not everyone who suffers from hyperthyroidism gets them, but as your thyroid affects your hormones, it makes sense that it may cause them, as it’s believed hormones are a factor in hot flashes during menopause. Usually, you also have other symptoms, such as weight loss and a change in bowel movements if you suffer from an overactive thyroid. (1) (8)
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Have you ever had spicy foods and broken out into a sweat? Yep, that’s a hot flash. However, it’s also believed that hot flashes can be brought on by eating foods you’re sensitive to. While a more severe allergic reaction would most likely have you break out in a rash, give you breathing difficulties, make you vomit, or cause other severe symptoms, lesser food allergies, and food sensitivities can cause milder symptoms. (1) (8)
Caffeine can also make you experience a hot flash, as it helps dilate your blood vessels and some people are particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine. (1) (8)
4. Being Overweight or Pregnant
Obesity and the rate of hot flashes during menopause are linked. As obesity is also linked to chronic inflammation (which in turn is linked to illnesses such as cancer and heart disease), sexual dysfunction, and diabetes, choosing to eat healthily and exercise can greatly help you improve your overall well-being. (6) (9) (10) (11) (12)
If you gain a few kilos suddenly and start experiencing hot flashes, you might also want to check that you aren’t pregnant, as hot flashes are common during pregnancy.
5. Too Many Blankets, Hyperhidrosis, Lymphoma, and Infection
Many people who report having hot flashes report having them at night, which interrupts their sleeping patterns.
Sleeping well is important. In fact, it has been suggested that women who have sleeping problems during menopause are also more likely to be depressed and have hot flashes. The circadian rhythm is important for our health, and if we keep changing the hours and times when we sleep, we end up constantly jet-lagged, which in turn can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health. (2) (3) (4) (5)
You can have hot flashes (or what feels like hot flashes) during sleep even though you don’t have menopause. If you felt cold before going to bed, you might have felt you needed an extra blanket, or maybe you turned up the radiator. But you felt cold before you got under the duvet, once your body temperature has adjusted to your current circumstance, you may wake up feeling hot.
Try to warm up before you go to bed so that you have a more accurate feel of how thick a duvet/how many blankets you truly need.
Other causes for hot flashes at night (and sometimes during the day) include hyperhidrosis (a medical condition where you sweat too much) and lymphoma. Infections such as tuberculosis, HIV, endocarditis, and others can also cause hot flashes. If you have unexplained hot flashes at night, you should, therefore, seek medical attention to rule out these possibilities. (7)
Smoking on its own might not bring on hot flashes, but for menopausal women, those who smoke have more hot flashes. In other words, if you give up smoking, your hot flashes may go away even though you are still menopausal.
A wide variety of medications, including birth control, can cause hot flashes. If you are on any kind of medication, be sure to read about potential side effects and discuss it with your doctor if you have hot flashes.
As hot flashes can be caused by an array of different underlying conditions, it’s important to seek medical help. It’s also beneficial to rule out anything to do with your overall lifestyle, such as sleeping in too hot a bedroom, smoking, or eating foods that cause obesity or allergies/sensitivities.