When most people think of hot flashes, they probably picture someone in menopause drenched in sweat, gripping one of those battery-operated fans. (Considering it’s one of the more common side effects of menopause and perimenopause, this depiction isn’t necessarily far-off.) But it turns out that you can experience hot flashes at any age ― and for reasons that have nothing to do with the completion of your menstrual cycle.
Because the fluctuation in hormones — and decline in estrogen production — during menopause can cause hot flashes, other conditions that affect hormone levels may cause them, too, according to Dr. Qurat Mudassar, a primary care physician for Western Connecticut Medical Group.
No matter the underlying cause, hot flashes are the body’s way of responding to heat. It starts with the brain telling the body it needs to cool down, stat, so the blood vessels immediately begin to dilate. “This increases blood flow to the surface of the skin so the body can remove excess heat,” Mudassar said.
Odds are, the occasional hot flash is nothing to worry about. But if they happen frequently enough that they’re concerning you, keep track of when you get them ― especially in relation to meals you’ve eaten, stressful life events, health changes or other potential symptoms you might be experiencing.
Then share this intel with your doctor, said Dr. Erkan Buyuk, an assistant professor of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women’s Health at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. This can help your doc pinpoint what may be causing them so you can finally score some relief.
Below are a few possible reasons why hot flashes are cramping your style, according to experts:
1. Stress And Anxiety
When the body experiences stress, it releases adrenaline. This causes increased blood flow and an uptick in body temperature, Mudassar said. Cue a hot flash.
“If you’re having a stress-related hot flash, find a cool place and try relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing to help manage your stress, and therefore relieve the hot flash,” she said.
But if your go-to stress management strategies don’t cut it, consider talking with your doctor, who can help you map out a plan to effectively regulate your stress and the associated symptoms like hot flashes.
Abnormal amounts of thyroxine, a hormone produced in the thyroid, can change the body’s metabolism. With hyperthyroidism ― a condition in which you end up circulating too much thyroxine ― the body’s metabolism goes into overdrive.
“The increased metabolism mimics constant exercise, which can make you feel hot and sweaty like you’re having a hot flash,” said Dr. Anuja Vyas, an OB-GYN at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas. You might also experience heart palpitations, anxiety, fatigue, trouble sleeping and unintentional weight loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Because the signs of hyperthyroidism can be linked to many other conditions, it’s important to share a complete rundown of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing (even if they seem like no biggie) with your doctor. From there, they can figure out the best course of action to level out your thyroid ― and relieve your hot flashes in the process.
3. Magnesium Deficiency
“Magnesium, a mineral stored primarily in bones, helps with blood pressure regulation,” Vyas said. “Decreases in magnesium can lead to the inability to regulate blood pressure properly and trigger hot flashes.”
Other symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue and weakness. The recommended amount of magnesium for adults is 310 to 420 mg per day, depending on age and gender. It can be found in many foods, such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and green leafy veggies, as well as fortified foods like breakfast cereals.
4. Food Sensitivities
Spicy foods are best known for triggering hot flashes, and they do so by releasing a chemical called capsaicin, said Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
This can cause blood vessels near the skin to expand, creating a feeling of warmth. Avoiding foods that contain capsaicin (jalapeño, habanero and serrano peppers, for example) is the easiest way to avoid hot flashes while eating spicy foods.
But if you don’t do spicy and think something else in your diet might be to blame, writing down your meals and snacks ― as well as when your hot flashes strike ― can help you suss out the sneakier culprits.
Alcoholic beverages, especially fermented ones (think: beer, sherry) may contain tyramine, an amino acid, or histamine, a chemical associated with blood vessel dilation, both of which can induce hot flashes, Buyuk said. Red wine is another common instigator. It contains preservatives that can cause facial redness and flushing, Vyas said.
Keeping tabs on how your body reacts to certain cocktails and ghosting the ones that cause you drama can help to eliminate your hot flashes.
6. Primary Ovarian Insufficiency
Primary ovarian insufficiency, also sometimes called premature ovarian failure or POI, occurs when the ovaries shut down and stop producing estrogen before age 40. People with POI experience symptoms similar to those of people who are in perimenopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats, irregular periods, insomnia and vaginal dryness. But unlike those going through perimenopause, they may still have irregular periods and can still get pregnant.
Blood tests can determine if you have POI ― and if you do, your doctor can help restore your estrogen levels, which may also help to reduce hot flashes, Mudassar said.
Hot flashes can also be a side effect of prescription drugs. For example, antidepressants that increase serotonin levels in the brain affect the hypothalamus — the part of the brain that regulates body temperature — and can trigger hot flashes, Mudassar said. If you think your hot flashes are a side effect of a medication you’re taking, your doctor can either help you find a more suitable medication or suggest ways to manage it.
8. Blood Sugar Imbalance
Over time, high blood sugar levels can affect the cardiovascular system and trigger hot flashes, thanks to an uptick in blood pressure and heart rate. It can also cause nerve damage, and if the nerve endings around sweat glands are affected, it could increase how much you sweat, Vyas said. On the flip side, low blood sugar can lead to a release in adrenaline, which can trigger sweating and hot flashes as well.
Other symptoms of high blood sugar include peeing more often and thirst that just won’t quit, while low blood sugar can bring on hunger, fatigue and anxiety. If you think your blood sugar might be out of whack and causing your hot flashes, your doctor can run tests and guide you on how to better regulate it.
9. Excess Weight
Not only can obesity cause hormonal changes that trigger hot flashes, but it can also lead to other conditions associated with hot flashes, including insulin resistance, high blood sugar and high blood pressure, Mudassar said.
“With healthy weight loss and maintenance, you may experience relief from hot flashes ― and most importantly, improve other health conditions that may have been caused by being overweight,” she said.