Nearly every woman will go through menopause in their lifetime. Around the ages of 45-55, a woman’s body will begin slowing down its production of hormones estrogen and progesterone, ultimately stopping her period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When this occurs, women can experience many uncomfortable symptoms, the most infamous of all being hot flashes. Hot flashes can vary in pain and intensity from woman to woman, and their exact cause is not completely understood.

“Hot flashes are thought to be the result of changes in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates the body’s temperature. If the hypothalamus senses that a woman is too warm, it starts a chain of events to cool her down,” per The North American Menopause Society.

Symptoms of a hot flash

Signs that you are experiencing a heat flash include the following, per Mayo Clinic:

  • Rapid feeling of heat through the chest up.
  • Flushed skin with red splotches.
  • Fast-paced heartbeat.
  • Sweating.
  • Chills quickly following the heat.
  • Anxiousness.

Adding to that, a hot flash episode can last anywhere between one and five minutes but varies on the individual.

“How often hot flashes occur varies among women, but most women who report having hot flashes experience them daily. On average, hot flash symptoms persist for more than seven years. Some women have them for more than 10 years,” per Mayo Clinic.

Night sweats are a similar experience but occur when sleeping and can be uncomfortable enough to cause a woman experiencing it to wake up drenched in a heavy sweat.

Hot flashes linked to health issues

Unpublished studies that were presented at the annual meeting held by The Menopause Society in Philadelphia on Wednesday “found intense hot flashes are associated with an increase in C-reactive protein, which is a marker of future heart disease, and to a blood biomarker that might predict a later diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease,” per CNN.

Cardiac effects due to hot flashes are not new. However, the link to Alzheimer’s disease is.

“This is another piece of evidence telling us that hot flashes and night sweats may not be as benign as we have thought them to be in the past,” Dr. Stephanie Faubion, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Women’s Health Specialty Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, and medical director for The Menopause Society, who was not a part of the study told CNN.

An additional study at the event found that women who experience frequent hot flashes are at a higher risk of stroke, heart attack and even heart failure.

One in three women suffers from some form of cardiovascular disease, according to The American Heart Association.

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Menopause does not cause cardiovascular diseases. However, certain risk factors increase around the time of menopause, and a high-fat diet, smoking or other unhealthy habits begun earlier in life can also take a toll, Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist, told The American Heart Association.

Adding that, “Menopause isn’t a disease. It’s a natural phase of a woman’s life cycle,” Dr. Goldberg said. “It’s important for women, as they approach menopause, to really take stock of their health.”

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How to manage hot flashes

If hot flashes trouble you, there are measures you can implement. Pay attention to what causes your hot flashes and their intensity. This will guide you in effectively handling your symptoms.

The National Institute of Aging recommends making moderate lifestyle changes to handle hot flashes:

  • Dress in layers so that you can remove clothing if needed.
  • Avoid spicy food, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Try to live a healthy/active lifestyle.
  • Carry a portable fan to help cool down quicker.
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