Hint: it's not as fun as this.

Every once in a while I meet a woman who claims she's never had a hot flash. Yes, they walk among us and if you suffer from hot flashes like me, you can understand that it takes all of my restraint not to punch them in the face. 

Just kidding—some of these women are my friends, and I would never punch a friend! (Strangers, however, may not be completely off limits.) OK, totally joking of course, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a wee bit envious of women who claim they've never experienced a hot flash. What are the rest of us doing wrong?

Often the question comes up because some women, understandably, aren't sure if they've ever had a hot flash. It's a valid question. How does one know if they're just feeling hot because it's the middle of July and the air conditioning has only been running for a minute or if they're actually having a full-blown hot flash?

I'm happy to break the differences down for you!

How Do I Know If I'm Having a Hot Flash?

First, let's describe what it feels like when you're just hot because the temperature is hot, or you're exerting physical activity in a warm environment. 

You may sweat, and you may feel flushed, but the sweating tends to be more localized. You may sweat under your arms first and maybe a few other areas. But once you've been able to cool the air around you down with air conditioning or cool your body by taking a cool shower or moving into a cooler room, you're going to feel fine as long as you stay in that cool environment. Your comfort is entirely dependent upon the air temperature and humidity in the room you're in. 

The bottom line in this scenario is this: you have a degree of control over making yourself feel comfortable. 

Hot flashes, however, are a whole different animal. Instead of starting in your face or under your arms, they usually begin in your chest area and then radiate throughout your body, namely your extremities. 

Sweating usually isn't localized to one or two areas. You're going to discover sweat glands in places you never knew had them. I know, ewww. Unfortunately, it's true. 

Also, the air temperature has nothing to do with whether you'll have a hot flash or not (but if the room is cool, at least you'll feel a bit more comfortable when one hits. It's the absolute worst when you're putting or pulling something out to the oven on a hot day when one strikes.)  Hot flashes aren't dependent upon the weather or the air temperature, which is why you can get them any time of the year, including the winter. 

You have little control over the suckers and the situation. Very often, there's little you can do other than try to find a way to cool yourself off and you just need to wait it out. They can last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, leaving you drenched with sweat depending on how severe the attack is. 

And then comes that gross, cold, clammy feeling afterwards until you can wipe/clean the sweat off of you and change clothes if needed—oh joy! Nothing like having to do that in the middle of the night when you need your rest! Speaking of which...

What is the Difference Between Hot Flashes and Night Sweats?

None, except night sweats happen at night, namely when you're sleeping. 

Other Symptoms of Hot Flashes

You may also feel your face getting warm and flushed and your heart rate start to increase. Sometimes they're accompanied by feelings of stress and anxiety, but more than likely it seems the hot flashes make you feel more stressed and anxious. 

What Causes Hot Flashes?

To answer this question would require a whole other blog post, but in a nutshell, it's the fact that your body is producing less estrogen due to your aging ovaries that's behind it. The medical term for hot flashes is vasomotor symptoms. 

I've read that spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol can trigger hot flashes. I personally haven't experienced a connection between consuming any of these and getting a hot flash. 

It's important to remember that there are some medical conditions and prescription medicines that can cause hot flashes as well. If you're in doubt, it's worth it to visit a doctor to rule out any other possible causes. 

As hot as this, but not as tasty. Photo by Fabrizio Pullara on Unsplash

How Long Do These Blasted Hot Flashes Last, Anyway?

No one can predict this, unfortunately. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but some women never get them while others will deal with them—gulp—the rest of their life. 

Why Do Some Women Never Get Hot Flashes?

I wish I could say they have a secret to never getting them but unfortunately, no one know why some women seem except from them. My mother claimed she never got any. Perhaps if you were on hormonal birth control for an extended period of time during your fertile years, hot flashes are mild or non-existent. 

One interesting thing to note is that Japanese women don't experience hot flashes as severely or often as American woman do, and in fact, menopause isn't really discussed in the country because it doesn't disrupt daily life to the extent it does in the U.S. Many speculate that the Japanese diet—which is high in soy based foods and seafood—may contribute to having less hot flashes. 

How Do I Prevent Hot Flashes?

Some medical websites will tell you that you can't prevent hot flashes, but I personally don't believe that's true. Hormone replacement therapy has been used for decades now to successfully treat menopause symptoms, including hot flashes. 

But if you don't want to go the hormonal route, there are lots of natural supplements on the market that may or may not help. The FDA doesn't back any of them, but in my opinion that doesn't mean they're necessarily harmful or ineffective. I do recommend doing a little research on the ingredients and reading up on any side effects to determine if they're right for you. 

Exercising and avoiding stress may help as well. I have found that when I'm stressed and a hot flash hits, well...it's just the icing on the cake in an already comfortable situation. 

It's Soy Good

As I just mentioned, eating more soy may be able to keep hot flashes at bay or less intense. Soy contains phytoestrogen which is a substance found in plants that mimics estrogen in the body. I've incorporated both tofu and soy milk into my diet and while I don't consume them every day, they do seem to make a difference. 

You can also try sheets and pads for your bed made with material that's designed to pull body heat away from you and help you feel cooler. These products won't actually prevent hot flashes—it's your body, after all, that is producing them—but they may help you feel more comfortable. 

Then there are those nifty neck fans you can wear around your neck and switch on when you feel a hot flash coming on. I haven't tried one yet myself, but hear they're great because the air is directed downward onto your core and chest area. 

There is sooooo much more to cover about hot flashes in future posts but I hope this helps you determine if you're actually having a hot flash. 

Stay flashy (the other kind of flashy), my friends!


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