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What Are The Causes Of Hot Flashes? Menopause, Smoking, Obesity And More

Hot flashes are sudden sensations of warmth usually felt on the neck, chest and face. They are common during the night and are often accompanied by visible redness and onset of sweating.

Though hot flashes are prevalent in premenopausal and menopausal women due to low oestrogen levels, men with prostate cancer also experience them for a considerable time. [1] However, hot flashes can occur to anyone due to a plethora of causes, with their lasting period depending on the factor that has triggered them.

According to some studies, hot flashes, one of the vasomotor symptom, are a type of temperature dysfunction that occur mainly due to disruptions in gonadal/sex/reproductive hormones. This is because various hormones and neurotransmitters govern the body temperature, with oestrogen being on the top of the list. [2]

In this article, we will discuss some of the possible causes of hot flashes. Take a look.

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1. Menopausal stages

A study says that around 80 per cent of menopausal women experience hot flashes along with other symptoms like anxiety and chills. The study also revealed that around 55% of women experience hot flashes during the premenopausal period, 25% up to five years of attaining menopause, one-third up to ten years and 8% still after 20 years of menopause. [3]

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2. Tumours

A study has shown that hot flashes are often reported by cancer patients, especially in patients with thyroid, renal and pancreatic cancer. They are also reported by 51-81 per cent of women with breast cancer and 69-76 per cent of men with prostate cancer. [4]

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3. Sex steroid hormones

Sex steroid hormones, especially oestrogen are considered a risk factor for hot flashes. The decrease in oestrogen gradually affects the thermoregulatory homeostasis of the body and triggers the sensation of warmth. The decrease in oestrogen is not only related to menopause but other conditions that cause low oestrogen levels in the body such as prepuberty, pituitary insufficiency, postpartum Sheehan's syndrome and loss of ovarian functions. [5]

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4. Diabetes

A study says that hot flashes are induced due to oestrogen-related decline in glucose delivery to the brain. Low oestrogen causes a decrease in glucose transportation to the brain. Therefore, when the brain activity increases and requires more glucose, the body is unable to upregulate to maintain the supply, which results in hot flashes. [6]

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5. Genetic

Some published studies have shown that genetic polymorphism or say, variation in certain kinds of genes (usually that encode oestrogen receptors) can cause hot flashes. This is why some premenopausal women face hot flashes at an early stage and for a longer period and some not. [7]

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6. Eating disorders

Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating can cause hot flashes due to compromised immune system. A decrease in immune functions can disrupt hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature and causes hot flashes.

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7. Race/ethnicity

Though hot flashes can occur in anyone, it is frequently reported among certain race or socioeconomic groups. For example, African American women report the symptom often compared to Caucasian women. This is because of the differences in lifestyle factors such as BMI, smoking and diet among different races. [8]

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8. Pregnancy

A study says that around 35 per cent of women report hot flashes during pregnancy while 29 per cent after the delivery. They mainly occur due to hormonal fluctuations and reproductive transition during pregnancy. Also, they seem to increase with gestational age and decline after the delivery. [9]

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9. Obesity

High BMI or obesity is linked to hot flashes. Some theories have shown that obese people have more adipose tissues or say, body fat that acts as an insulator and inhibit the release of heat, thus causing more episodes of hot flashes. Also, in obese women, the oestrogen levels are low which can trigger the symptom more often. [10]

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10. Mood disorders

Mood disorders like depression and anxiety can be a risk factor of hot flashes. A study has shown that depression is prevalent in premenopausal women who have hot flashes compared to those who do not have the symptom. A strong association was also made that women who exercise daily are at a lower risk of depression. Though, physical activity is not directly linked to a low incidence of hot flashes. [11]

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11. Smoking

A study says that women who are smokers have low progesterone and oestrogen levels and high androgen levels. They also have 1.6 fold increased odds (if ever smoked) and 4 fold increased odds (if heavy smokers) of experiencing hot flashes, compared to women who never smoked. [12]

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12. Certain medications

A study says that women who are on breast cancer medications and men who are on prostate cancer drugs can experience hot flashes for a certain period. Also, women who are on hormonal therapy can experience the symptoms. [13]

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Other Known Causes

  • Consuming spicy foods
  • Intake of hot drinks
  • Frequent physical activity
  • Caffeine
  • Wearing tight dresses
  • Being in a warm room with no proper ventilation
  • Spinal lesions
  • Alcohol consumption
  • To Conclude

    Though hot flashes are studied for several years, the exact cause is yet to be discovered. This is because of the complex interactions between many environmental, genetic and physical factors.

Story first published: Friday, January 8, 2021, 18:00 [IST]