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Imagine this: You get into bed after a long day when suddenly you feel an intense wave of heat come over your body. Your heart rate is rapid and skin flushed, and sweat accumulates on your head, neck, and face. If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing a hot flash.
“Hot flashes are a common symptom experienced by many women during menopause, and they are characterized by sudden and intense feelings of heat that spread throughout the body, causing sweating, flushing, and a rapid heartbeat,” says Sarah de la Torre, MD, an ob-gyn and medical adviser at Joylux, an intimate wellness company that specializes in menopause education and care.
Everyone is different, but hot flashes are primarily caused by hormonal changes in the body, most commonly associated with menopause, says Molly McBride, MD, an ob-gyn at Elite Gynecology. It’s not exactly clear how and/or why hormonal changes cause hot flashes, but the Mayo Clinic suggests they are due to a decrease in estrogen. That said, hormonal imbalances can also occur due to medical conditions such as diabetes and thyroid problems; infections like urinary tract infections, tuberculosis, and HIV; and certain cancer treatments, which may also trigger hot flashes, Dr. McBride adds.
Hot flashes can happen to anyone, but they are most commonly experienced by women, particularly those who are going through menopause or perimenopause (the transitional period leading up to menopause), Dr. McBride says. In fact, 75 to 80 percent of women in the United States experience hot flashes, she adds.
But what do hot flashes actually feel like in the first place? POPSUGAR talked with experts to find out everything you need to know about these pesky sweats.
What Do Hot Flashes Feel Like?
During a hot flash, you may feel a sudden wave of heat that spreads throughout your body, particularly in your face and chest, Dr. McBride says. “You may also experience a sensation of pressure or warmth in your head, neck, or ears, and some people describe feeling a chill immediately after the hot flash subsides,” she explains.
That said, hot flashes can vary in intensity and duration. Some people describe the feeling as a sudden wave of warmth that starts at the chest and spreads upward to the neck, face, and scalp, while others describe it as a sudden feeling of warmth that starts at the head and spreads downward, Dr. de la Torre explains. “During a hot flash, the skin may become red and flushed, and sweating may occur, particularly on the upper body, and some people may also experience a rapid heartbeat, palpitations, or a feeling of anxiety or panic.”
How Long Do Hot Flashes Last?
The duration of hot flashes varies with each person, but they typically last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, Dr. de la Torre says. They can also vary from one episode to the next and can occur occasionally or multiple times a day, she adds. “The duration and frequency of hot flashes can vary depending on factors such as a person’s age, hormone levels, and overall health, but for women going through menopause, hot flashes can last for several years but typically become less frequent and less severe over time.”
Why Are Hot Flashes Worse at Night?
Hot flashes can happen at any time, but they are particularly worse at night because the body’s natural temperature regulation system changes during sleep, and the body’s core temperature slightly drops, Dr. de la Torre says. As a result, this drop in temperature can trigger a hot flash as the body tries to compensate for the change, she explains.
Additionally, when a person is lying down, blood flow to the skin increases, which can cause a sensation of warmth and induce a hot flash, Dr. de la Torre says. Plus, nighttime hot flashes can also be exacerbated by other factors, such as wearing tight clothing, having a warm room temperature, eating spicy foods before bedtime, or drinking alcohol or caffeine, because these all naturally increase the body’s temperature, Dr. McBride explains.
Can Hot Flashes Happen in Your 20s?
It’s unlikely to experience hot flashes in your 20s since they are commonly associated with menopause (which typically occurs in women between 45 and 55 years old), but they can occur in younger women. “For women in their 20s, hot flashes are typically associated with hormonal changes, such as those that occur during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy,” Dr. de la Torre explains. “During the menstrual cycle, hot flashes can occur due to fluctuations in estrogen levels, particularly during the perimenstrual period, and women who experience irregular periods or have hormonal imbalances may be more prone to hot flashes during their 20s.”
Pregnancy can also cause hot flashes in some women, particularly during the first trimester when hormonal changes are occurring, Dr. de la Torre says.
Hot flashes in your 20s may also occur if you take antidepressants or blood-pressure medication or have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disorders, Dr. McBride explains. Stress and anxiety may also be the culprit, she adds.
How to Stop Hot Flashes Fast
Hot flashes can feel uncomfortable, unbearable, and sometimes even embarrassing. But there are a few methods experts suggest when it comes to stopping hot flashes fast.
- Dress in layers: Wearing clothing made of natural fibers, like cotton, will allow your skin to breathe, Dr. de la Torre says. This won’t necessarily stop a hot flash, but dressing in layers will make it so you can easily remove a layer when you feel a hot flash coming on.
- Stay cool: Keep the temperature of your home comfortable and cool, and use fans or air conditioning if necessary. Dr. de la Torre’s other go-to recommendation is a cooling product that can be worn directly on the skin to deliver targeted relief and absorb heat.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Stress and anxiety can trigger hot flashes, so try relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, mindfulness, guided breathing, or even walking to help manage stress, Dr. McBride says.
- Avoid triggers: Identify and avoid triggers that can cause hot flashes such as spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and smoking, Dr. de la Torre says.
- Consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT): If your hot flashes are severe, HRT can be an effective treatment, Dr. de la Torre says. That said, it does come with potential risks and side effects, so always talk to your doctor to discuss whether it’s a healthy option for you.
Ultimately, if your hot flashes are impacting your quality of life, talk to a healthcare provider who can assess your specific situation and provide the best recommendation for managing and treating those sweats.