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What is a Hot Flash?

Some Descriptions of Hot Flashes . . .

Women experience a variety of symptoms of menopause, but the hot flash is the one most discussed. During menopause the body produces less estrogen and progesterone. As a result, the thermostat in our brain, the hypothalamus, gets mixed signals: is it hot or cold? It is as if it cannot decide between these states. This oscillation causes our blood vessels to expand and contract on an irregular and unpredictable basis. With an increased blood flow in the body, a feeling of heat and a flush starts on the face, the neck, and continues to the chest. Some women perspire, others really sweat! Sometimes a chill follows a hot flash. You'd be cold, too, if you were hot and soaking wet in the middle of winter, and suddenly someone turned off the heat. Depending on the intensity of the hot flash, some women may get headaches, feel weak, dizzy, tired or lose sleep. Some may experience palpitations, skipped or erratic heartbeats. Remember to be sure to check with your health care practiioner before attributing any of the above symptoms to menopause. Hot flashes can be the sign of illness or medical disorders.

The upper body, from the chest to the scalp, may begin to sweat profusely. You may also "flush," that is, become red as you flash. Heart rate and skin blood flow increase, although internal body temperature may drop by as much as three or four degrees as the body struggles to correct the imbalance. After the flash, the body quickly becomes chilled as it struggles to regain its normal temperature. Most flashes last about three to six minutes, although it's possible to have one that goes on as long as an hour.

Hot flashes are sudden waves of heat that can start in the waist or chest and work their way to the neck and face and sometimes over the rest of the body. The upper body, from the chest to the scalp may begin to sweat profusely. You may also "flush," that is, become red as you flash.

Heart rate and skin blood flow increase, although internal body temperature may drop by as much as three or four degrees as the body struggles to correct the imbalance. After the flash, the body quickly becomes chilled as it struggles to regain its normal temperature. There's no real "average" when it comes to duration. Some flashes can last 15 to 30 seconds, while others from 3 to 6 minutes. Most women who've come through Power Surge have described theirs as approximately 5 minutes, but they can last as long as 30 minutes to even an hour. They can hit as often as every 90 minutes.           

Hot flashes are more common in the evening and during hot weather. Seventy-five to 80 percent of women going through menopause experience hot flashes. Some are more bothered by them than others.

How Long Does a Hot Flash Last?

Hot flashes may last two to three minutes or up to 30 minutes. They may occur several times a day, or feel like they're occurring all day! They can occur once a week, maybe never. Hot flashes may happen once or twice, or continue for up to ten years. No wonder women think they are going crazy!

Who Experiences Hot Flashes?

Seventy-five percent of women experience some form of a hot flash. Hot flashes can be a nuisance and even debilitating (when extreme) but they may have positive side to them. Vicki Noble, author of "Shakti Woman," a book about feminine power, suggests that hot flashes can be viewed as a natural cleansing of our body. The increased temperature may be nature's way of killing off cancer cells and viruses that might otherwise lead to illness later on.

Hot flashes are rushes of heat primarily to the head and neck region occurring when blood vessels near the surface of the skin dilate. Some women have a premonition of an impending hot flash which may be felt as pressure in the head, anxiety, a tingling sensation, or nausea. The sensation of heat may also be widespread. The heart rate increases. Surges of blood to the hands can result in a tingling sensation. Following a flash, body temperature drops and many women experience a chill. There is no change in blood pressure at this time. About eighty percent of American women experience hot flashes at some time during menopause. They last mostly anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes but, in rare cases, can extend to a half hour or about an hour. They are associated with but not necessarily caused by fluctuating levels of estrogen since women who experience hot flashes and those who don't have been known to have the same levels of estrogen, according to Susan Weed in "Menopausal Years". Weed's book is an extraordinarily useful source for herbal information about hot flashes and other menopausal changes. Most women have hot flashes for a period between two months and two years. A smaller percentage continue to have them a decade after their last menstrual flow. The worst hot flashes are often experienced by women who have an abrupt loss of ovarian estrogen due to surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

Thinner women may experience more hot flashes since fat cells convert hormones secreted by the adrenals into estrogen [in other words, it's wise to retain a little extra weight during meno].

Hot flashes can be categorized as mild, moderate or severe. Mild flashes last less than a minute and produce a feeling of warmth with little or no perspiration. Moderate flashes are warmer, produce obvious perspiration, and last 2 to 3 minutes. Severe flashes causes profuse perspiration, generate intense heat, last longer and interfere with ongoing activity.

Clothes made of natural fibers (cotton, wool, silk) can disperse heat away from the body. It is more practical to dress in layers so that clothing can be removed and added as needed.

Hot flashes deplete our bodies of the B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium so it is helpful to increase our consumption of these nutrients [don't forget Calcium].

For ordinary hot flashes, try vitamin E with dosages between 400 and 800 IUs daily [many women take 1000 - 1200 IU's, but in the case of vitamins and herbs, more is not always better. D-alpha tocopherol means that it comes from a natural source, but DL alpha means a synthetic. The vitamin E I use is mixed tocopherols.

One common regimen is vitamin E, 600 to 800 IUs daily with vitamin C. When flashes subside, take 400 IUs daily. Perhaps 50 percent to 66 percent of women will find Vitamin E effective. However, it may take 2 to 6 weeks before the effects are really felt. Women who are diabetic or taking high blood pressure medication or with rheumatic heart conditions should take vitamin E under a doctor's supervision [It's advisable that women with a history of hypertension not take dosages higher than 200 IU of Vitamin E at a time]. Do not take vitamin E with digitalis.

Bioflavonoid in supplements of 250 mg five to six times daily can help relieve hot flashes.

Herbs commonly used to alleviate hot flashes include ginseng, black cohosh, vitex agnus castii, blue cohosh, dong quai, *wild yam root* [natural progesterone, licorice root, false unicorn and sarsaparilla. Experiment with using one herb or several in combination.

Evening primrose oil alleviates hot flashes and promotes restful sleep. These benefits may be due to the gamma linolenic acid in the oil which is said to influence prostaglandin production. (Evening primrose oil is used to relieve premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and tenderness of fibrocystic breasts). Depending on the amount of primrose oil in each capsule, effective dosages vary from 2 to 8 capsules a day. (A Friend Indeed, November, 1985).

Chickweed tincture (25 to 40 drops) once or twice a day reduces the severity and frequency of hot flashes.

A few homeopathic remedies suggested by Susan Weed in "Menopausal Years" and Diane Stein in "The Natural Remedy Book for Woman" are Lachesis for mental irritation and hot flashes, Pulsatilla for hot flashes followed by intense chills and emotional upset, Valeriana for intense sweating and insomnia and Sepia for flashes that make you feel exhausted and depressed.

Drink several cups of sage tea daily. Use one tablespoon of sage per cup of water and infuse it for twenty minutes.

Acupuncture, meditation and biofeedback have helped women find relief from hot flashes.

Exercise helps to decrease hot flashes by lowering the amount of circulating FSH and LH and by raising endorphine levels (which drop during a hot flash). Even 20 minutes three times a week can significantly reduce hot flashes

Slow abdominal breathing, six to eight breaths per minute, can bring about a 40 percent decrease in frequency of hot flashes, according to two research psychologists from Wayne State University. Women used this technique for 15 minutes twice a day and when they felt a hot flash coming on. ("A Friend Indeed", April, 1993).

In extremely hot flashes, try:

Black cohosh root extract, 30 to 60 drops [or capsules] when taken up to four times a day.

Ginseng has earned respect as a way to alleviate hot flashes. The most useful is panex sold as Korean ginseng or American ginseng. ("A Friend Indeed", Nov.,1985). Dosages vary according to body weight. The easiest way to be sure what dosage you are getting is to buy it in capsule form. Use 500 mg twice a day for those weighing less than 130lbs., three times a day for those up to 160 lbs., and four times daily for those over 160 lbs. Ginseng works best on an empty stomach and can be taken before breakfast and before dinner. It is recommended that you not eat fruit for two hours after taking ginseng and that you take it separately from any vitamin supplement. It is not advised for women with high blood pressure or diabetes. Women with asthma or emphysema would do well to avoid ginseng because of its histamine liberating properties. Ginseng is also available in tinctures, teas and tonics.

Motherwort extract, 25 to 40 drops every four hours.

Royal jelly. Use 3 to 7 glass ampules a week.

Bee pollen, 500 mg, 3 tablets per day reduces hot flashes for some women. Sucking on a piece of hard candy has been known to head off a hot flash or moderate an intense one.

For night sweats, try homeopathic Nux vomica when you are awakened and feel chilled and irritable. Use all cotton sheets and natural fibers. Use 10 to 25 drops of Motherwort extract three times a day or upon awakening with a night sweat. You will notice a difference in two to four weeks. For prompt relief, use an infusion of garden sage.



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