What Can Trigger Hot Flashes During Menopause?

Many women experience hot flashes during menopause.2 Sometimes they can be so frequent or intense that they interfere with daily routines and sleep.  

If you’re managing hot flashes and the consequences that come with them, learning what causes your hot flashes can help you manage them and get back to focusing on the things in life that matter most. 

Having a hot flash can look different from person to person, but in general, you’ll know you’re dealing with one if you experience the following symptoms:1 

  • Heat rising from your core and spreading into your neck and face 
  • Flushed skin 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Sweating
  • Chills as the hot flash resides

The nature of hot flashes varies for every woman. They can last from 1 to 5 minutes or more and may occur at any time, day or night.   

Likewise, hot flashes can occur over a short period of time or, as is the case for some women, the remainder of or even after menopause.  

Not only are hot flashes uncomfortable and unpleasant to experience, they can seriously complicate your ability to focus, feel productive, and stay healthy. 

A great example of these impacts come from hot flashes that take place during the night, also known as night sweats. Night sweats can disrupt your sleep, causing fatigue, mood swings, and more. 

Common Causes of Hot Flashes 

Doctors don't completely understand exactly what causes hot flashes, or vasomotor symptoms as they are known medically.  

But we do know that during a hot flash, the body senses it is too warm, increases blood flow to the surface in an attempt to dissipate body heat, leading to the balmy feeling that a hot flash creates.3 

Problems with maintaining a regular body temperature may be caused by the effects of fluctuating hormones on your hypothalamus, which is located just above the pituitary gland in your brain.   

During menopause, the hypothalamus can become hypersensitive to temperature changes in the body and overreacts by kicking off a hot flash.  

Even a minor shift in temperature – exiting an air conditioned store on a warm day, for instance – can be enough for the body to trigger this extreme reaction.  

Hot Flash Triggers 

Hot flashes can be triggered by normal, everyday things. Recognizing and eliminating these triggers can reduce their frequency and intensity.   

Common examples include:  

  • Alcohol 
  • Smoking 
  • Caffeine 
  • Spicy foods 
  • Hot environment
  • Stress
  • Restrictive, tight clothing

Things to Avoid for Hot Flashes 

Managing hot flashes can be as simple as reducing or eliminating exposure to your triggers. Aim to make practical changes like: 

  • Drinking plenty of water, and avoiding beverages like alcohol, coffee, sodas, etc. 
  • Limiting or halting the use of cigarettes and other nicotine products 
  • Eating fewer spicy foods when possible 
  • Wearing breathable, loose clothing during hot weather and aiming to keep your bedroom cool at night 

Resources:

1 “Hot Flashes.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, May 20, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hot-flashes/symptoms-causes/syc-20352790#. 

2 “Hot Flashes: Triggers, How Long They Last & Treatments.” Cleveland Clinic. Accessed October 27, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15223-hot-flashes.  

3 “Mayo Clinic Minute: Help with Hot Flashes Due to Menopause - Mayo Clinic News Network.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, March 29, 2022. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-help-with-hot-flashes-due-to-menopause/.