A hot flash is a sudden, intense, hot feeling on your face and upper body. Hot flashes can be accompanied by a rapid heartbeat, sweating, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, headache, weakness, or a feeling of suffocation, followed by chills. Hot flashes are caused by a decrease in estrogen. When estrogen levels drop or estrogen receptors are blocked, the body’s temperature control system gets confused and the result is hot flashes.
Hot flashes are a symptom of menopause. If you’re having treatment for breast cancer, hot flashes can be more intense and last longer, particularly if menopause was medically induced.
Several treatments for breast cancer can cause hot flashes:
- ovarian shutdown or removal
- hormonal therapy:
Managing hot flashes
If you're having severe hot flashes, talk to your doctor. If you're taking hormonal therapy, you may be able to stop your treatment for a week or two and then restart it at a lower dose and slowly increase it. Your body may be better able to adjust to the changes this way.
You can also try these tips to ease hot flashes:
- Avoid hot flash triggers such as stress, cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, diet pills, spicy food, hot food or drink, hot tubs, saunas, hot showers, hot rooms, and hot weather.
- Reduce the fat in your diet. Over time, a low-fat diet helps some people with hot flashes. Losing excess weight helps, but losing too much weight, or being too thin, can make hot flashes worse.
- Dress in layers so you can peel off one layer after another as you get warmer.
- Don’t wear heavy or thick fabrics such as wool, synthetics, or silk. Wear loose and airy fabrics such as cotton, linen, and rayon.
- Keep ice water nearby so you can sip it to cool down. Pack a small cooler full of cold water to carry with you.
- Lower the room temperature by turning down the thermostat, turning on the air conditioner, or turning on the ceiling fan.
- Sleep in cotton pajamas or a nightgown. If you have hot flashes and perspire at night, the nightclothes are easier to change than the sheets.
- Put cotton sheets on your bed. Cotton soaks up sweat and dries quickly.
- Take a cool shower before going to bed.
- Consider complementary and holistic therapies. Techniques that may help include meditation, massage, yoga, and acupuncture.
- Ask your doctor about techniques to help you sleep through the night if your hot flashes are affecting your sleep.
- Be patient. Your body is going through changes. Once the changes take place, you’ll feel more like yourself again.