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 triggers hot flashes? Basically, they are external and internal factors that have an impact on the body in a way that causes 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. These treatment options can help with hot flash side effects.
1. Alcohol Can Cause Hot Flashes
Alcohol is one of the strongest reasons you may feel hot flashes, especially for chronic alcohol consumers. Alcohol is one of the many beverages that causes something called vasodilation. This is the process of expanding blood vessels. When this expansion occurs, it causes a rush of blood to surge throughout the body, which naturally raises body temperature.
The area of the brain known as the hypothalamus is responsible for regulating body temperature. During menopause, the drop in the sex hormones and estrogen affects the hypothalamus’ ability to regulate body temperature and registers even the slightest changes in temperature with extreme sensitivity. Alcohol raises your temperature and can cause the hypothalamus to cause a hot flash in an attempt to cool down the body with sweat.
2. Caffeine is a Vasoconstrictor
Unlike alcohol, caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it narrows the blood vessels, but that doesn’t mean it can’t cause 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 make you warmer. The hypothalamus registers this rise in body temperature as a threat to maintaining stability, and again, it triggers a hot flash to cool down the body through sweat released from the glands in the skin. It also takes a long time for caffeine to be metabolized by the body. One six-ounce cup of coffee in the morning can take up to 12 hours for the body to metabolize and expel. This means that the likelihood of experiencing multiple hot flashes throughout the day increases. Consider relying on supplements instead of caffeine to get you through the day in a healthier way.
3. Spicy Food Can Increase Body Temperature
Spicy food, though delicious, is another hot flash cause. Chili peppers, jalapeños, 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 something with spice, like an 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 in the only effective way the body knows how. However, this process is also a double-edged sword with unwanted side effects, as it causes both your heart rate and blood pressure to rise, which can cause a hot flash.
4. Warm Weather Can Trigger Menopause Symptoms
Of course, the factors that cause a hot flash can’t always be easily controlled. Hot, humid weather is one of the biggest causes of hot flashes in your daily life. When the weather is warm, the body has a hard time keeping itself cool. In a normal situation, our hypothalamus does what it does best and tells the skin to release sweat onto the skin’s surface to cool the body from the outside in. For women in menopause, warm weather means that they may experience severe 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 the severity of hot flashes at bay, even if it’s just for a little while.
5. Warm/Tight Clothes Create Friction and Heat
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 this irritability generates heat. When enough heat builds up near the skin’s surface, the hypothalamus begins to think that the body is overheating and reacts with 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 or of having night sweats and insomnia. Wear looser-fitting clothes made out of a thinner, breathable fabric, especially when it’s hot out.
6. Stress Increases Cortisol and Heart Rate
Stress is perhaps the most common and most difficult hot flash trigger to manage. It’s more common for women to experience chronic stress, mood swings, or insomnia, Because of this, your body is making stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. 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 heat and result in a hot flash. Finding ways to manage stress can be difficult, but effective stress management is one of your best tools for reducing hot flashes. Even taking a deep breath to slow a blood rush or making some lifestyle changes to lower anxiety can make all the difference for your side effects.
Take Control of Your Hot Flash Triggers: Track Your Symptoms
Menopause symptoms can be very disruptive with 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 symptoms and find some relief. Making adjustments to your diet and balancing your microbiome can also help cut down the severity of hot flashes and help support menopause symptom relief. Start by tracking your symptoms with a period and health tracker specifically designed for women in midlife. Once your symptoms are entered regularly you’ll start receiving customized recommendations to address hot flashes and the other 40+ symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.