Menopause is a gynecological disorder that is different for different women and varies in degrees from light symptoms that are, at best, irritating to heavy and consistent symptoms that cause actual physical and emotional disabilities. Hot flashes and night sweats are both conditions of menopause, which signify the end of a woman’s ability to ovulate every month, and produce and bear children. However, hot flashes and night sweats could have other causes besides menopause.
What are Hot Flashes?
A woman’s body produces less estrogen and progesterone during menopause. The brain’s "thermostat" (the hypothalamus) can get mixed signals from this hormonal depletion and the body cannot tell if it is hot or cold. The vacillation causes the blood vessels to expand and contract in a manner that is irregular and unpredictable. If the blood flow increases, the woman experiences an overall “hot” feeling, or sudden waves of heat; often, a flushing sensation accompanies this feeling (skin turning a red or reddish color). The heating sensation is called a “flash,” because it is over almost as quickly as it started.
What are Night Sweats?
Because of the factors described above, some women also perspire or sweat heavily--mostly at night, and so much that it becomes intolerable because sweat can be itchy and sticky at the same time. This is not dependent on the weather or indoor room temperatures, it is physically internal. Very often, the hot flash is followed by a sudden chill, or a feeling of being cold even when the room or outdoor temperature feels hot to everyone else. This is because as the body struggles to regain its balance form overheating, it trips an automatic internal cooling mechanism that causes a feeling of coldness, even if the indoor or outdoor temperature is warm or extremely hot.
Women have reported that they get neurological or physical “warnings” before a hot flash or night sweat occurs. They get an "aura" (mostly from migraine headaches) or a "premonition" of some kind that something is about to happen. Some have tingling feelings or moderate pressure in the head, and some often feel nauseous. These warnings can also be accompanied by weakness, dizziness or a general overall feeling of sickness.
Hot flashes and night sweats may be accompanied by headaches, weakness, dizziness, heart palpitations, skipped heartbeats, tiredness or insomnia. Hot flashes and night sweats also can be a sign of other illnesses or medical disorders; check with a physician to be sure they can be attributed to menopause.
The most common medical treatment for hot flashes is estrogen replacement to make up for the depletion, but estrogen replacement does not cure the problem. There is also no cure for night sweats, which may be accompanied by panic and anxiety attacks, but it may help to keep a glass of room-temperature water beside the bed. It may also be a good idea to talk to a physician about herbal supplements and dietary changes, as well as hypnotherapy and yoga to help alleviate some of the symptoms. Keep in mind that not all women experience both hot flashes and night sweats, but many do.