If you’ve had one, there’s no mistaking it: the sudden, intense, hot feeling on your face and upper body, perhaps preceded or accompanied by a rapid heartbeat and sweating, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, headache, weakness, or a feeling of suffocation. Some women experience an “aura,” an uneasy feeling just before the hot flash that lets them know what’s coming. The flash is followed by a flush, leaving you reddened and perspiring. You can have a soaker or merely a moist upper lip. A chill can lead off the episode or be the finale.
Every woman’s experience is a little bit different. However, the faster you transition from regular periods to no periods, the more significant your hot flashes may be. Some premenopausal women who have their ovaries removed can experience severe hot flashes due to surgical menopause. Chemotherapy-induced medical menopause can cause hot flashes, as can hormonal therapies such as tamoxifen. Overall, the severity of hot flashes can vary from mild to moderate to severe.
If you haven’t been warned about hot flashes, a sudden severe episode can be frightening: it can have some of the same symptoms as a panic attack or a heart attack. It’s always a good idea to get such symptoms checked to rule out a more serious cause, such as a heart problem.
On the following pages, you can learn more about hot flashes, what causes them, and strategies for reducing their frequency or severity.