Hot flushes, although a common menopausal symptom, are not always related to the menopause. In this page, our menopause expert Eileen Durward explores the other causes of hot flushes and recommends a course of action to alleviate them.
We generally assume that a hot flush has been caused by the menopause, but this is not always the case. If you believe that your hot flushes may be caused by something other than the menopause, it is worth examining your symptoms, as neglecting to investigate the root cause may prevent you from finding an effective solution.
Studies suggest that overweight and obese women are more prone to hot flushes, whether they are going through the menopause or not. Losing weight through exercise and diet seems to reduce the frequency and intensity of these hot flushes.
Suggestions for the reason behind this highlight that women with a higher BMI also have a higher level of the hormone oestrogen, the main cause of hot flushes, and that women with increased body fat may find it harder to cool down quickly.
We all know that what we eat has a significant impact on our life, but sometimes our bodies react to certain types of food in ways we don’t expect. Some people can develop sensitivity to a certain food product, consumption of which may result in a hot flush. Common triggers include caffeine and alcohol.
In others, it is an increased sensitivity to sugar, or excessive consumption of refined sugar which can result in these problems. Consumption of sugar can increase heart rate and blood pressure, elevating your body’s normal temperature.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a food additive that can cause an adverse reaction, such as hot flushes. As MSG is a common additive in Chinese food, the resulting hot flushes are sometimes termed ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.’
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is overactive and makes excessive amounts of thyroid hormone. Too much thyroid tells your metabolism to speed up, making you more prone to hot flushes and sweating.
If an over-active thyroid gland is causing your hot flushes, this is worth investigating, as it is often possible to find the root of the problem and find an effective treatment.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can result in a range of symptoms, including hot flushes. When your body reacts to a stress trigger, it reacts with a ‘fight or flight’ response. Your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens and blood sugar level rises. All of this raises the body’s temperature.
If your hot flushes are being caused by anxiety, it can often be possible to combat the symptoms by breathing slowly and deeply to reduce your heart rate.
In a similar way to some food types resulting in hot flushes in some people, equally, certain types of medication can have this same effect. The most common types of medicines causing hot flushes are anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications and some types of hormonal treatment.
Generally speaking, the hot flushes begin at the start of the course of medication, and end as soon as it has stopped. If this is the case, then you will be able to determine whether the hot flushes are caused by the medication rather than the menopause.
Although the link between heart disease and hot flushes is still being researched, it is thought that abnormal changes in the pumping action of the heart can result in hot flushes. While in some cases, these changes can be something like a response to a stress trigger, in other cases, it may be indicative of heart problems.
Tests have also been performed to study the link between menopausal hot flushes and heart disease. Although the results are inconclusive, it is thought that there is an increased chance of developing heart disease if you develop hot flushes several years after the transitional period into the menopause.
Suffering from a fever can cause you to experience hot flushes. A fever usually occurs because the immune system raises the temperature of the body to kill off any viral or bacterial infection it sees as a threat.
If a fever is causing your hot flushes, you are likely to experience other symptoms. For example, with the flu, you are also likely to suffer from aching joints and fatigue. You will experience alternating bouts of chills and sweating.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection which mainly affects the lungs, resulting in a persistent cough, often with blood in it. However, it is also characterised by hot flushes and night sweats. The temperature of the body is raised when suffering from TB, causing you to sweat more as you try to cool down.
Although many people in the UK have been vaccinated against TB, in recent years only high-risk groups have been offered the vaccination. If you suspect you have TB then it is important to seek proper medical attention, diagnosis and treatment.
Hot flushes can be the side-effect of certain types of cancer, most commonly leukaemia and lymphoma. However, these hot flushes are usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as fevers and unexplained weight loss.
It is also common for some cancer treatments to cause hot flushes, such as Tamoxifen, opioids and steroids. There is thought to be a small increased risk of developing cancer when taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and for this reason, many women who have or are at high-risk of developing cancer should not take HRT for hot flushes.
You won’t get the menopause the minute you turn 50! The average starting age is actually between 45 and 55 and it can often depend on a number of factors including hereditary, weight and health, however every single woman will have an individual menopause.