6 Common Hot Flash Triggers
Hot flashes. We all know them and hate them. Hot flashes are uncomfortable and frustrating. They come on without warning and can last for long periods of time, making it nearly impossible to focus or perform daily tasks. Many women in menopause report that their hot flashes are so overwhelming they have to stop everything they’re doing and sit absolutely still. This extreme rush of heat is often coupled with dizziness or sudden drowsiness, which only adds to the inconvenience.
While balancing hormones is the most direct approach to helping keep hot flashes under control, there are other ways that women can help lower their chances of experiencing intense hot flashes and help support their menopausal health. Avoiding triggers can help reduce the chances of experiencing intense hot flashes.
What are hot flash triggers? Hot flash triggers are external and internal factors that have an impact on the body in a way that influences or triggers a rise in body temperature. Hot flash triggers are easy to avoid once you know how to identify them.
What Are Some Common Hot Flash Triggers?
There are a few common hot flash triggers that women can easily identify and reduce their exposure to.
Alcohol is one of the strongest hot flash triggers, especially for chronic alcohol consumers. Alcohol is one of the many beverages that causes something called vasodilation. Vasodilation is the process of making blood vessels expand and widen. When this expansion occurs, it causes a rush of blood to surge throughout the body, which naturally raises body temperature. Raising body temperature is a precursor to triggering a hot flash.
The area of the brain known as the hypothalamus is responsible for regulating body temperature. During menopause, the drop in the sex hormones affects the hypothalamus’ ability to regulate body temperature and registers even the slightest changes in temperature with extreme sensitivity. By raising body temperature, alcohol can cause the hypothalamus to trigger a hot flash in an attempt to cool down the body with sweat.
Unlike alcohol, caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it narrows the blood vessels, but that doesn’t mean it can’t trigger a hot flash. In fact, in many women, it still does. Caffeine is a stimulant, and like all stimulants, it raises heart rate and blood pressure, both of which can raise body temperature. The hypothalamus registers this rise in body temperature as a threat to maintaining steady body temperature, and again, it triggers a hot flash to cool down the body through sweat released from the glands in the skin. It also takes longer for caffeine to be metabolized by the body. One 6 ounce cup of coffee in the morning can take up to 12 hours for the body to metabolize and expel from the body. This means that the likelihood of experiencing multiple hot flashes throughout the day increases.
Spicy food, though delicious, is another hot flash trigger. Chili peppers, jalapenos, and other hot peppers are also vasodilators. They raise body temperature by increasing the speed at which blood flows through the cardiovascular system. Additionally, spicy foods increase levels of hormones like adrenaline. When you eat a spicy herb or a pepper, your brain registers the heat that your tongue experiences as if it is, quite literally, on fire. This causes your brain to warn the rest of your body to release adrenaline and decrease feelings of pain. However, this process is also a double-edged sword, as it causes both your heart rate and blood pressure to rise, which as we know raises body temperature and triggers a hot flash.
Of course, not all hot flash triggers are something we can easily control. Hot, humid weather is one of the biggest hot flashes triggers. When the weather is warm, the body has a hard time keeping itself cool. In a normal situation out hypothalamus does what it does best and tells the skin to release sweat to cool the body from the outside in. For women in menopause, warm weather means that they may experience hot flashes more often throughout the day. It’s important to try to keep the skin as cool as possible. Using fans, ice packs, and drinking cold beverages when it’s hot out can help keep hot flashes at bay, even if it’s just for a little while.
Like with warm weather, warm or tight clothes can trigger hot flashes too. Tight clothes create friction against the skin, which can not only be irritating to the skin’s surface, but it also generates heat. When enough heat builds up near the skin’s surface, the hypothalamus begins to think that the body is overheating and triggers a hot flash. Decreasing the amount of heat generated and insulated by your clothes can help you reduce the chances of experiencing numerous hot flashes throughout the day. Wear looser fitting clothes made out of a thinner, breathable fabric, especially when it’s hot out.
Stress is perhaps the most common and most difficult hot flash trigger to manage. It’s more common for women to experience chronic stress and with that comes the constant production of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. When these hormone levels are high, they increase heart rate and blood pressure. Like we’ve said before, these two processes lead to an increase in body temperature and that increase triggers a hot flash. Finding ways to manage stress can be difficult, but stress management is one of your best tools for reducing hot flashes.
Take Control of Your Hot Flash Triggers
There are many things that can trigger a hot flash, but being able to understand and identify your hot flash triggers is the first step in finding ways to manage your menopausal health and find some relief. Have more tips to manage hot flashes? Leave them in the comments below!