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Is it Hot in Here, or is it Just Me?

Menopausal hot flashes have become the news flash of this decade.  Now that the Baby Boomers are entering menopause at a rate of 4,000 per day, hot flashes are a popular topic of conversation.  But what are they, really?

Hot flashes are the second most common menopausal symptom reported by American women (after sleep disturbances).  A hot flash is a sudden sensation of intense heat over the upper body, arms and face followed by skin flushing in these areas and profuse sweating.  Anywhere from one half to two thirds of menopausal women report hot flashes, which means that at least one third of menopausal women either don't have them or aren't bothered by them.  For women who do have them, hot flashes are associated with sleep disturbances, fatigue, irritability, and forgetfulness as well as physical discomfort, social embarrassment, changes in sexual interest and satisfaction, and negative effects on work performance.

Hot flashes result from the decreasing or fluctuating estrogen levels that accompany menopause.  Women with hot flashes are more likely to have mothers who had hot flashes and are more likely to be smokers, but they can affect any menopausal or perimenopausal woman.

Six out of 10 women report that their hot flashes are severe, yet only two out of 10 women seek medical attention for their hot flashes.  For those who do, estrogen replacement therapy is often recommended.  Many menopausal women who relied on estrogen to treat their hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms were confused by the Women's Health Initiative study which recommended against hormone therapy for long-term use or for presumed preventive benefits in women without bothersome menopausal symptoms.  For women who can't take estrogen, other therapies are available which may help reduce hot flashes.

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Created: 4/2/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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