Most American menopausal women, about 75% of them, suffer from hot flashes. There are other conditions like male hormone restriction therapy for prostate problems, hyperthyroidism, low blood pressure and low blood sugar, where hot flashes are known to occur.
The immediate cause of the problem is the dilation of blood vessels on the upper part of the body, particularly the neck and face. The root cause of the problem, what causes this enlarging of blood vessels, is still unclear. Large fluctuations of female hormones seem to be the prime cause. Hot spicy food, caffeine, hot weather, alcohol and stress act as triggers to start hot flashes.
The attack can end in a few seconds or last as long as an hour, and there is a wide variation in the severity of the attack. Some can sense the attack, while for others it is very sudden. The first and most common symptom is the feeling of heat on the upper body, particularly the neck and the face. At the same time, the body core temperature drops as much as three degrees. The face flushes, that is it turns, red.
To cool the hot area there is perspiration. This could be anything from slight moist skin to profuse sweating. The heart beats faster to compensate. There may be palpitation or irregular heartbeats. Since the head is directly affected, there is a chance of headache and dizziness. All this put together makes you feel weak and suffocated. Insomnia is a common complaint after hot flashes. After the attack is over you feel very chilled, as the body temperature is very low.
Depending on the severity of the attack, many treatments are available. A simple lifestyle modification may be enough for mild hot flashes. Natural herbal medications, acupuncture and other over-the-counter medicines can manage moderate hot flashes. Severe hot flashes need hormonal therapy and other prescription drugs.