Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Are Hot Flashes Always a Sign of Menopause?

Sometimes they are a sign of diabetes.

We all know that hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of menopause, but are they always due to menopause? Here's the information you need to know to choose whether to ask your doctor to test for something else.

Hot flushes are most common in women in the period of life called perimenopause, the two to seven years before full-blown menopause when the menstrual period becomes irregular. For instance, there could be a period lasting three weeks in perimenopause, or a period lasting five. They also occur in women of any age who have had their ovaries surgically removed.

Most women sense a flash coming on before it actually happens. There can be a feeling of veins popping in the face and neck as they actually do open up to admit greater blood flow to the head. Waves of heat strike the head and then radiate out to the torso and arms. The heat is wavelike and can last for a few minutes up to an hour. There can be dizziness, nausea, headache, or mood disturbance during the flash. The difference between hot flashes and flushing is that hot flashes include any, many, or all of the aforementioned symptoms, but flushing only involves redness spreading up the face.

Hot flashes strike women of all races, but for reasons scientists do not entirely understand, they tend to be more problematic for women of African descent. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that they affect 53 per cent of African-American women but only 29 per cent of white women.

Flashes also strike women of all ages, but they are most common between the ages of 40 and 56. And men can get them too, but for entirely different reasons.

If there is any doubt as to whether a hot flash is a symptom of menopause, the doctor can run a test for a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). There are non-hormonal causes of night sweats and hot flashes. Other kinds of hot flashes are also distinguished by the timing.

The flushing that men and women can get due to diabetes occurs usually during eating or up to 30 minutes after, especially when the food is high in carbohydrate. Tidal fevers of malaria occur approximately the same time every day, while periodic flashes due to hormones occur at random intervals. And hot flashes can be triggered by eating spicy foods. The corresponding symptom of diabetes and malaria is not.

Recent reader questions:

Q. Is there a way to make your period start naturally? Will this relieve hot flashes?

A. Herbalists have used feverfew, ginger, parsley, rosemary, sage, thuja, and wild carrot seed as mild emmenagogues to induce menstruation. They aren't strong enough to interfere with pregnancy, but they are enough, in some cases to restore menstruation. There are stronger herbs, but they have potentially dangerous side effects.

And these herbs won't relieve hot flashes. For that, black cohosh is best.

Q. What about young people with hot flashes?

A. Although menopause may be surgically induced in young men, hot flashes in the young usually are an early warning sign of diabetes, especially if they occur during or within 30 minutes of eating.

Q. Can hot flashes just be chills?

A. Do you mean, can you have a hot flash without getting hot? Yes, but it would have the other characteristics of hot flashes listed above: irregular occurrence, feeling of spreading from the neck up and out, and other symptoms, like dizziness.

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