Hot flashes are commonly associated with menopause, but they can also be caused by a variety of different lifestyle factors or medical conditions, and they are not always a sign of something serious.
A hot flash is a feeling of sudden intense heat on the upper body lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes or longer. The feeling is often joined by other symptoms like sweating, reddening of the skin, dizziness, and heart palpitations.
While there are other possible causes, hot flashes are extremely common when people are going through perimenopause/menopause.
Hot flashes happen when the body’s internal thermostat senses that it’s too warm. This starts a chain of events where your heart beats faster, your sweat glands spring into action, and the blood vessels that are near the skin’s surface widen to cool the body off.
If you’re experiencing hot flashes, it could be because of a medication that you take. Hot flashes are a side effect of many prescription medications, including:
These drugs affect the levels of certain chemicals in the body, which in turn influences the body’s temperature regulation, hormone balance, and sweating mechanism. As your body adjusts to one of these medications, side effects like hot flashes may go away.
If your hot flashes from a prescription drug are excessive or concerning, talk to your doctor before you stop taking the medication. Your doctor might be able to recommend an alternative treatment, and can help you taper off or transition to a new medication safely.
An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) is when your body produces too much thyroid hormone. The increase signals your metabolism to speed up, which can cause symptoms like hot flashes, increased sweating, feeling overheated, weight loss, and night sweats (sweating profusely in your sleep).
Some people with hyperthyroidism find that the hot flashes and other symptoms are so disruptive that they cannot tolerate activities like intense exercise or being in a hot climate.
Anxiety disorders can have many different symptoms, including hot flashes, a racing heartbeat, and increased sweating. For example, while having a panic attack, it’s common to experience a sudden sensation of heat or a hot flash.
Researchers think that this symptom might be because the body releases stress hormones during a perceived “fight or flight” situation, which increases circulation and blood flow to the muscles and produces an uncomfortable, hot feeling.
A Hot Bedroom
Your sleeping environment could also be causing your hot flashes or night sweats (sweating so profusely during sleep that your bedding or pajamas are damp).
Our body temperatures naturally fluctuate throughout the night to preserve energy. Combined with heavy pajamas or blankets and a warm bedroom, that’s a recipe for hot flashes.
If lowering the room temperature and sleeping with lighter bedding or pajamas doesn’t help you stay cool, talk to your doctor. Your hot flashes might not be from a warm bedroom and could be caused by an underlying medical condition.
Carcinoid Syndrome and Hormone-Secreting Tumors
Though it’s more rare, hot flashes can also be caused by carcinoid syndrome, a condition in people with advanced carcinoid tumors that produce excess hormones that have effects throughout the body.
A common symptom of carcinoid syndrome is facial flushing. When this happens, the skin on your face, your neck, or your upper chest will suddenly feel hot and get red.
Facial flushing in people with carcinoid syndrome happens after the release of certain chemicals in the body that causes the widening of blood vessels (vasodilation) and a surge in blood flow under the skin.
Other tumors, such as pancreatic tumors, medullary thyroid cancer, bronchogenic carcinoma (lung cancer), and renal cell carcinoma, can also lead to hot flashes.
Some people get hot flashes from consuming caffeine-containing beverages like coffee. Caffeine can slightly increase the heart rate and may affect the body’s regulation of blood vessel dilation, meaning that it has the potential to induce hot flashes.
Most people have normal sensitivity to caffeine and can consume up to 400 mg per day without any unwanted side effects.
If you think your caffeine intake is triggering your hot flashes, make sure that you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day or consider switching to a beverage (like tea) that has a lower caffeine level.
Niacin is a vitamin B that’s commonly taken as a supplement. Flushing or hot flashes are common side effects of the supplement. The reaction happens as blood vessels expand, causing blood to flow to the skin’s surface and a sudden feeling of heat to rise.
If you prefer to keep taking a niacin supplement, talk to your doctor about changing your dosage if you are having hot flashes. You can also try cutting down on caffeine or using a “flush-free” form to help alleviate the side effects of the supplement.
Studies have also shown that taking an aspirin before you take your dose of niacin can decrease the flushing and itching. If you are having trouble with niacin side effects, you may want to try taking a 325 mg aspirin dose at least 15 to 30 minutes prior to taking the niacin to see if it helps reduce your symptoms.
Any infection that causes a fever can trigger hot flashes. The body’s temperature can rise as it tries to kill off a viral or bacterial infection. If an infection is the cause of your hot flashes, you may also experience other symptoms such as fatigue, joint aches, and sweating.
There is a wide range of infections that could cause hot flashes, including:
Hot flashes and related symptoms may also be the result of certain neurological disorders, which are conditions that affect the brain, nerves, and spinal cord. Sometimes, these conditions can interfere with the autonomic nervous system, which helps keep the body’s temperature in check.
For example, some people diagnosed with migraine may experience a feeling of extreme heat and sweating during the migraine attack. Other neurologic disorders like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), and some types of brain tumors can also prompt symptoms like excessive sweating, a feeling of being overheated, sudden body temperature shifts, and skin redness or flushing.
Your diet also has the potential to be a hot flash culprit. Alcohol, beer, and wine contain chemicals that can cause blood vessel dilation, which can trigger a sensation of sudden heat and skin flushing. The same goes for foods and ingredients with a kick, like hot peppers, cayenne, and chili powder, thanks to the active compound capsaicin.
In addition, foods that contain nitrite and nitrate compounds—which are found in processed foods like hot dogs and deli meats—are known to dilate blood vessels and promote hot flash-like symptoms. You’ve probably also noticed that any hot drinks like coffee or tea have the ability to raise your body temperature, which can sometimes lead to a hot flash or flushing.
Hot flashes can be a part of the body’s normal emotional response to certain situations or environments. It’s pretty common to feel a sudden rush of heat or notice your skin reddening or flushing during a moment of extreme anger, excitement, or embarrassment. These emotions trigger the nervous system, leading to blood vessel dilation and resulting in sweating, body temperature increase, a fast pulse, and flushing.
Skin conditions like rosacea which are characterized by redness and/or bumps on the face also commonly cause flushing, due to the chronic swelling of blood vessels on the face and upper body.
In fact, people with rosacea are encouraged to avoid triggers like extremely hot environments, spicy foods, hot beverages, alcohol, stressful situations, and any medications that would have the potential to dilate blood vessels and provoke additional redness or flushing.
While there isn’t a “cure” for hot flashes, there are some ways to relieve the discomfort that they cause and limit their severity. Treatment will vary based on the underlying cause.
- If your hot flashes are caused by a medical condition or prescription medication, it’s important to talk to your doctor about a specific treatment. This is especially true for serious conditions like carcinoid syndrome, severe infections, hyperthyroidism, and anxiety disorders that require medical treatment. In some cases, prescription medications might be able to help ease hot flashes.
- If your hot flashes are related to a lifestyle factor, consider making some changes to your daily routine, such as wearing lighter clothing, adjusting your thermostat, and staying hydrated. You will want to talk to your doctor before making any dietary or medication changes, such as cutting back on caffeine, niacin supplements, or OTC fever reducers.
Dealing With Hot Flashes
Hot flashes can be a nuisance, but there are several lifestyle changes that may be helpful in dealing with or preventing them.
- Keep the house cool and avoid overly warm environments.
- Dress in light, loose, layered clothing.
- Stay hydrated by sipping cold water.
- Carry a portable fan.
- Reduce stress levels with deep-breathing techniques or meditation.
- Get regular exercise.
- Avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine in excess.
- If you smoke, make a plan to quit.
When to See a Doctor
There are many different reasons for experiencing hot flashes. While most of them are not serious, you do need to know for sure what is causing them.
If you’re having trouble narrowing down the cause of your hot flashes, try keeping track of the episodes. List the details about the outdoor and room temperature at the time that you have one, your diet and activity levels, and any medications that you used. After a few weeks of collecting data, your doctor might be able to help you find a pattern.
Red Flag Symptoms
You’ll want to seek medical care if you have “red flags” along with your hot flashes, such as:
- They are suddenly becoming more frequent or getting worse.
- They are happening with symptoms of an allergic reaction.
- They are causing you stress and anxiety or interfering with your everyday life.
If you’re experiencing other sudden or unexplained symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, diarrhea, prolonged fever, enlarged lymph nodes, or unexplained weight loss along with your hot flashes, tell your doctor right away.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes hot flashes?
Hot flashes can be caused by menopause, certain prescription medications, infections, certain medical conditions, diet, a hot environment, strenuous exercise, or a combination of factors.
How do you stop hot flashes fast?
It can be difficult to stop a hot flash in its tracks, but you can try using a portable fan, removing a light layer of clothing, breathing deeply, and sipping ice cold water to help regulate your body temperature as you are experiencing an episode.
What are hot flashes?
A hot flash is a sudden feeling of warmth in the face, neck, chest, and upper body. Depending on the cause, a person can also experience heart palpitations, excessive sweating, dizziness, or reddening of the skin.
How long do hot flashes last?
It depends on the person. Hot flashes can be brief, lasting around 30 seconds, but can also last five or even 10 minutes. Some people may experience them for longer.
What do hot flashes feel like?
Hot flashes are often described as feeling like a sudden, uncomfortable rush of heat, especially in the face and chest area. This feeling can be coupled with an increased heart rate, sweating, and even feelings of stress or anxiety.
What causes hot flashes in men?
There are several reasons that hot flashes could occur in men, including prostate cancer treatment known as androgen deprivation therapy; lifestyle causes such as stress, depression, or anxiety; and medical causes like testosterone levels dropping in middle age.
Why are my hot flashes getting worse?
Several factors can make hot flashes worse, including shifting hormone levels, extra stress and anxiety, diet, infection, medical conditions, and certain medications. Hot weather and warm indoor environments can also make hot flashes worse.
How many hot flashes per day is normal?
The frequency of hot flashes is different for everyone and will depend on what is causing them. Some people experience them daily, while others get them weekly, monthly, or less often. In more severe cases, hot flashes can happen several times a day.
What causes hot flashes at night?
There are many reasons for having hot flashes at night (night sweats) including hormone fluctuations, a hot sleeping environment, an infection, or the food or prescription medications recently consumed.
While less common, having hot flashes at night can be a symptom of certain cancers, like lymphoma.
There are also normal body temperature variations that happen while sleeping, which can lead to excessive sweating and feeling hot overnight.