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Hot flashes: Here's what's causing them and ways to help prevent them

If menopause is the culprit, these expert preventative tips and treatment options may bring cool comfort.

Woman waving a fan due to being hot.
Menopause could be causing your hot flashes. Here's how to fight back. (Getty).

Summer is here and the temperatures are getting hotter, but that may not be why your body keeps experiencing heat waves, even when you're in a cooler environment. A hot flash — a sudden feeling of intense heat — can be brought on by several factors, including stress, anxiety, certain foods and hormones.

If you're experiencing hot flashes, it could mean you're going through menopause, perimenopause or pregnancy ... and it's important to know which (if any) of these causes could be the culprit. That said, regardless of the reason, one thing's for sure — you're probably wondering how to stop a hot flash once it's started, because there's nothing fun about the experience.

Here we've answers to help you understand what hot flashes are and what causes them, as well as how you can help prevent them from occurring. Additionally, the National Institute on Aging says the menopausal transition typically takes place between the ages of 45 and 55.

Hot flashes are sudden feelings of heat that can affect the face, neck and chest. They can also cause your skin to flush and sweat. Hot flashes can come in waves throughout the day and night and can cause discomfort.

What causes them? Generally, hot flashes are sparked by changes in your hormone levels — the most common being estrogen levels. This can occur during menopause, perimenopause and pregnancy for women.

"Hot flashes are triggered by the hypothalamus, or thermostat, part of the brain," Dr. Claudia Mason, a gynecologist and certified menopause specialist at Cleveland Clinic Florida, tells Yahoo. "There are small changes in the internal temperature after menopause begins because estrogen levels have dropped."

"Many women have complaints of hot flashes for a long time, lasting between seven to nine years," Mason says. However, they tend to decline in severity after three or four years.

Each hot flash can last anywhere between one to five minutes.

Mason describes hot flashes as feeling like heat emanating from inside the body, like an "internal furnace."

However, levels of severity may be different from one person to another.

In a menopause Reddit thread, women described their hot flashes as making them feel "claustrophobic" and causing their blood pressure or heart rates to go up. One described a dizzy and feverish feeling, while another said it's "like having a bad sunburn."

"They're not really worse at night, they just start at night when a woman is in the beginning of menopausal transition," Mason says. They're also known as night sweats and can cause discomfort when you wake up drenched in sweat.

We recommend sleeping on sheets designed to keep you cool at night.

woman lying awake in bed.
Cooling sheets can help with hot flashes at night. (Getty)

While the heat isn't the reason you're experiencing hot flashes, it's certainly not helping.

Since hot flashes are triggered by changes in body temperature, being outdoors during extremely high temperatures can make a hot flash feel worse. However, if it's already hot out, it's hard to say whether you're experiencing a hot flash or just the heat, Mason says.

Yes, men can experience hot flashes if their testosterone levels are low. According to Harvard Health, hot flashes in men are most common in individuals who have undergone prostate cancer treatments that suppress testosterone to help prevent the continued growth of cancer cells. That said, any man with low testosterone levels can experience hot flashes if levels dip too low. This often coincides with other symptoms like loss of libido and erectile dysfunction. Early research indicates that genetic factors may play a role in determining which men are more likely to experience hot flashes.

While you can't stop a hot flash in its tracks, preventative measures can help reduce the frequency and severity.

Keep your home cool: Run the air conditioner and/or keep fans on throughout your house to stay cool. If there's a breeze and it's not too hot outside, open your windows.

Enlist help outdoors: When you're outdoors, you may want to try a neck fan like this one or a cooling neck towel.

Dress in layers of light clothes: Wear loose, breathable fabrics such as cotton blends and linen, and avoid hot fabrics that trap heat (like tight denim). Mason recommends wearing light layers that you can peel off to stay cool.

Manage stress: Practice relaxation techniques to keep your mind at ease. "Anxious activities can worsen symptoms," Mason says.

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to help keep your body temperature regulated. (Here are some of our favorite water bottles you can use to stay hydrated.)

Avoid triggers: The Cleveland Clinic says to avoid things like caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol and smoking.

There are treatment options if you're experiencing menopause. We recommend talking to your doctor to see what will work best for you. Keep in mind that treating men for hot flashes may be different from treating women for hot flashes, especially if hot flashes are related to prostate cancer treatment.

  • Hormone replacement therapy: HRT may help relieve hot-flash symptoms by supplementing estrogen levels lost during menopause. Men with low testosterone may also benefit from supplementing testosterone. That said, men undergoing prostate cancer treatment to suppress testosterone levels should not supplement with testosterone.

  • Nonhormonal medications: Certain medications approved to treat hot flashes may help provide relief.

  • Therapy: Working with a therapist may help you manage stress and reduce the frequency of hot flashes.

  • Over-the-counter remedies: Phytoestrogen products and soy-based products (though not well studied) are sold as menopause remedies, Mason says.

Note: This isn't medical advice and you should always consult a doctor if you have any concerns about your health.