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What Are Vasomotor Symptoms (Hot Flashes)?

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health coverage, investigates vasomotor symptoms and how to reduce their frequency and intensity.

“Vasomotor symptoms, often referred to as ‘hot flashes’, are a common and frequently uncomfortable experience for many individuals, particularly women going through menopause,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“These sudden heat, sweating, and flushing sensations can disrupt daily life and sleep patterns. The good news is there are ways to manage and alleviate vasomotor symptoms.”

Understanding Vasomotor Symptoms

Vasomotor symptoms, often abbreviated as VMS, encompass a range of physiological sensations characterised by a sudden feeling of warmth, typically in the upper body, neck, and face. These sensations can last from a few seconds to several minutes and are often accompanied by perspiration and flushing of the skin.

While hot flashes often start at the beginning of menopause or perimenopause, they can affect people of various genders and ages.

How Long Do Vasomotor Symptoms Last?

For around 80% of people, hot flashes typically last for about two years or less. About 18% of individuals experience most of their hot flashes at the beginning of menopause. For approximately 30%, hot flashes tend to occur later, after their menstrual cycles have entirely stopped. Some people may even have hot flashes that begin early in menopause and continue for several years after it ends.

If your hot flashes are initially mild, they may persist longer. Although less common, some individuals may have hot flashes throughout their lives. However, with time, they usually become less intense.

Common Signs and Symptoms

  • Sudden Heat Sensation: These are accompanied by an abrupt feeling of warmth that seems to radiate from the inside of the body.
  • Facial Flushing: The face, particularly the cheeks, may become visibly red or flushed during a hot flash.
  • Sweating: Profuse sweating, which often includes skin dampness, can occur during a hot flash.
  • Chills: Some individuals may experience chills or shivering after the hot flash subsides.
  • Rapid Heartbeat: An increased heart rate or palpitations may accompany a vasomotor symptom.
  • Anxiety or Irritability: Hot flashes can sometimes trigger feelings of anxiety, irritability, or discomfort.

Causes and Triggers

The precise mechanisms behind vasomotor symptoms are not fully understood, but they are believed to be linked to changes in the body’s thermoregulatory system.

Here are some common triggers and contributing factors:

Hormonal Changes: Menopause and perimenopause are the most well-known triggers for hot flashes. As oestrogen levels decline during these stages, the body’s temperature control can be disrupted.

Other Hormonal Imbalances: Conditions like hyperthyroidism or specific hormonal therapies may also lead to hot flashes.

Medications: Some medications, including antidepressants, steroids, and opioids, can cause vasomotor symptoms as a side effect.

Lifestyle Factors: Smoking, caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods may exacerbate hot flashes in some individuals.

Stress and Anxiety: Emotional stress and anxiety can cause or worsen vasomotor symptoms.

Diet and Weight: Obesity and a high body mass index (BMI) are related to an increased chance of having hot flashes

Managing Vasomotor Symptoms

The good news is that there are several strategies to manage vasomotor symptoms effectively. Here are some approaches to consider:

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Hormone replacement treatment can help menopausal women reduce hot flashes by refilling their falling oestrogen levels. However, addressing the risks and benefits with a healthcare expert is critical, as HRT may pose specific health hazards.

Lifestyle Modifications: Avoiding trigger foods and beverages (caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol), maintaining a healthy weight, and staying physically active can help minimise the frequency and intensity of hot flashes.

Dress in Layers: Wear layered clothing to remove items quickly when a hot flash occurs.

Cooling Strategies: Keep a fan or a handheld fan nearby to cool down during hot flashes, and use a cool cloth on your forehead or back of the neck for relief.

Mind-Body Techniques: Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and deep breathing techniques can help manage stress and minimise the frequency of hot flashes.

Prescription Medications: In cases where hot flashes are severe and significantly affect a person’s quality of life, prescription medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), may be considered.

Herbal Remedies: Some individuals find relief from hot flashes through herbal supplements like black cohosh or soy isoflavones. Consult with a healthcare provider before trying any herbal remedies.

Acupuncture: Some people report reduced frequency and severity of hot flashes after undergoing acupuncture treatments.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading health coverage provider, offering you a range of options at affordable rates, including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of having medical insurance that meets your needs, budget, and lifestyle. Our healthcare products are designed to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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