Hot flashes/hot flushes or vapers: a typical complaint during menopause. The first hot flashes often occur just before the menopause years. Many menopausal women suffer from hot flashes or night sweats. Hot flashes are caused by the dilation of blood vessels. How do you recognize this menopausal complaint and what can you do about it?
What are hot flashes?
The first hot flash sometimes occurs before menopause, but most women experience it about one year after their last menstrual period. The last menstruation is also called menopause: after that there is no ovulation and therefore no more menstruation. Menopause begins on average around the age of 50, and in some women it starts around the age of 40. Hot flashes are often associated with menopause. More than 80 percent of all menopausal women suffer from hot flashes.
A hot flash is clearly recognizable. There is a sudden feeling of overheating. The skin turns red, especially on the face and neck. Perspiration (sweating) occurs, sometimes nausea, headache or tingling. The heart rate often feels accelerated and the arms and legs may feel heavy. Some women only suffer from night sweats, other women have both: hot flashes and night sweats.
What are night sweats?
Night sweats are different from a hot flash, but are closely related. With night sweats, you suddenly wake up during the night, soaking wet with sweat. The heart rate may be accelerated. Sometimes pajamas or sheets need to be changed, they are so worn out. The hair can also be soaking wet, as if you have just come out of the shower. Night sweats often make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep , which can cause sleeping problems. Many women with night sweats also feel tired during the day and have problems with concentration. Rapid irritation and excessive eating can also occur, resulting in weight gain.
The cause of these menopausal complaints
For a long time it was unclear what the exact cause of hot flashes is. It is clear that it has to do with a change in hormones. The problem is found in the hypothalamus. This is a very small part of the brain: a small organ that takes up less than 1 percent of the total brain volume. So small yet so important. The hypothalamus regulates very important processes: the feeling of hunger and thirst, body temperature, directing the body for recovery after exercise and the control of various hormones. The hypothalamus regulates the pituitary gland but also produces hormones itself.
Good, now we know what the hypothalamus is good for. In the hypothalamus we find KNDy neurons that play a role in reproduction. During the menopause years, these neurons suppress estrogen, the female hormone that is no longer produced after the menopause years. The KNDy neurons are actively involved in vasodilation: the process that occurs during a hot flash. The signal is given in the brain that the body temperature is rising. The blood vessels respond to this by dilating. By dilating the blood vessels, the blood can release excess heat through the skin. The skin turns red, feels warm and sweating occurs. However, there is one problem: the body temperature is not increased, so the whole action of the blood vessels is useless. The signal that was delivered in the brain is therefore an erroneous signal, caused by the KNDy neurons.
After the menopause years, when estrogen is no longer produced and the KNDy neurons are no longer involved, the hot flashes and night sweats disappear .
Hot flashes are much less accepted in our society than in non-Western countries. There, hot flashes are much more accepted and women can therefore tolerate them better. Dealing with hot flashes is therefore on the one hand a matter of acceptance. Certain foods can increase hot flashes. Coffee, tea, alcohol and spicy foods are known triggers. Heat in the environment can cause a hot flash. For example, sitting in the sun can become transmissible for some women. But heated rooms can also be unpleasant. The bedroom prefers to remain cooled.
In case of serious complaints, the doctor can prescribe hormones. Hormones are only prescribed if people no longer have a night’s sleep due to night sweats or if normal activities cannot be done due to hot flashes. Hormone tablets or hormone patches are prescribed. This contains the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This reduces the complaints. It should be borne in mind that taking estrogen can cause menstruation to return, often irregularly. Estrogen intake slightly increases the risk of breast cancer. The risk of a heart attack, stroke and thrombosis also increases slightly. It is recommended not to use hormones for more than six months at a time.