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What Is a Hot Flash?


Officially, hot flashes (or vasomotor symptoms) is a term to describe recurrent, transient episodes of flushing accompanied by a sensation of warmth to intense heat on the upper body and face.  They have been reported to affect the quality of life.  


If you are reading this, then you are probably having hot flashes or are living with someone who is.  There are many names for the same phenomenon: hot flashes, hot flushes, night flashes, night flushes, vasomotor symptoms or thermoregulatory dysfunctions. 

They make you hot. 

They usually start at night (night flushes), and may cause you to wake up soaked and hot.  Then you may promptly become freezing cold.  When I have night flushes, two different things may happen. 

Sometimes, I may wake up because the sweat dripping off of my body tickles my face or stomach.  I am amazed that I was sweating to that extent and did not wake up prior to being soaked.  When I take off my nightshirt, it feels like you are removing a t-shirt that you wore into a pool.  It is hard to get off because it is so wet.  The other scenario that happens to me is just waking up in the morning with my sheets, blankets, and clothing being completely soaked.  I tell my husband that “the detective showed up again last night.”  When I get out of the bed, the sheets have the outline of my body as if someone put tape around a dead body.  I can completely see my body in the form of soaked sheets. 

The hot flashes then may start happening during the day, and your scalp and head drip sweat at the most inopportune times.  Actually, I think that there is a force which is pushing hot water up to your neck, face, and eventually out the pores in your scalp.  This pressure pushes the water out of each hair follicle simultaneously as the water then drips off of the end of enough hair that you look like you have run a mile or two, but not enough that you just got out of the shower.  Basically, you feel like you just left the gym and need a shower.  Unfortunately, this occurs most often while you are in a meeting or just about to give a presentation in front of your boss.

The hot flash is the second most frequently reported peri-menopausal symptom (the first is irregular bleeding).  As many as 75% of peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women in the US report hot flashes.  It is the hallmark of peri-menopause.  The frequency of hot flashes is reported to be the highest during the first 2 post-menopausal years.  Some women have them for 10 years or longer; some women experience a recurrence of hot flashes more than 10 years after menopause.