Hot flushes, not just a menopause symptom – 6 alternative causes of hot flushes

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Hot flushes are thought to be related to changes in central nervous system neurotransmitters but there's still much that's not understood.

 
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Hot flushes in menopause are caused by falling hormone levels. Happily, there are plenty of studies trying to resolve this debilitating menopause symptom.

But what exactly is a hot flush? Often described as a sudden feeling of heat that seems to come from nowhere and spreads throughout the body, accompanied by an increase in heartbeat and pulse rate, flushes and sweats, followed by a cooling chill as sweat dries on the body. 

Hot flushes, are not just associated with menopause and aren't life threatening, but can have a massive impact on quality of life. We’ve looked into other causes of hot flushes in both men and women.

Other causes of hot flushes

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Premature ovarian insufficiency

Premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) can occur in women younger than the average age of menopause, (51) causing hot flushes. Read more about this and how to get support, in our post Understanding the Stages of Menopause. Listen to Annabel’s Story, who when she was 15, was told the news that her lack of periods were because of POI.

Surgical removal of one or both ovaries

Known as oophorectomy, this procedure can cause an abrupt or early menopause creating more severe symptoms than natural menopause. Surgical procedures, or those induced by chemotherapy, radiation or drugs, tend to produce more pronounced hot flushes than natural menopause.

An oophorectomy can be done as a stand alone procedure, but women often have it done as part of surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy).

In those with an increased risk of ovarian cancer, an oophorectomy is commonly combined with surgery to remove the nearby fallopian tubes (salpingectomy) since they share a common blood supply with the ovaries. When combined, the procedure is called a salpingo-oophorectomy.

Reasons why oophorectomy done

  • A tubo-ovarian abscess — an abscess involving a fallopian tube and an ovary
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Endometriosis
  • Noncancerous (benign) ovarian tumours or cysts
  • To reduce the risk of ovarian cancer or breast cancer in those at increased risk
  • Ovarian torsion — the twisting of an ovary

Some cancer treatments

Some cancer treatments can lower the levels of sex hormones in the body - oestrogen and progesterone in women, and testosterone in men. The cancer treatments include hormone treatments for prostate cancer in men.

Prostate cancer needs testosterone to grow. Hormonal treatments aim to:

  • stop the testicles from making testosterone
  • stop testosterone reaching cancer

More research is needed to see if low testosterone in men has the same role in causing their hot flushes.

Cancer Research UK say some treatments such as goserelin (Zoladex) cause hot flushes in most men. Treatment using anti andogen drugs (such as bicalutamide) are less likely to cause hot flushes for some men.

For more information about hot flushes and sweats in men as a result of cancer treatment, look at men coping with hormone treatment on the Cancer Research UK website.

Spinal surgery

Some sweating following spinal surgery can be an indication that the body is fighting off an infection. Anaesthesia can also cause an increase in sweating as  it affects the hypothalamus (which controls body temperature).

Dr. Stefano Sinicropi, a Minnesota-based expert in spinal, orthopaedic and neurosurgical techniques, says, "many patients report having night sweats following spine surgeries. These can be particularly frustrating as they prevent patients from getting the sleep they need to effectively recover post-op". Fortunately, he adds, sweats should reduce with time.

As always, with any medical issue, if you're concerned about sweating after spine surgery, seek medical advice.

Overactivity of the thyroid gland

The clinical names for an overactive thyroid gland are: hyperthyroidism (excess of thyroid) and thyrotoxicosis (poisoning by the thyroid).

Hyperthyroidism is overactivity of the thyroid gland, which results in a number of symptoms and signs. It can be primary or secondary: The thyroid gland is situated in the neck and its hormones control the metabolic rate of tissues. When metabolism increases our bodies produce excessive heat, which results in constant sweating, particularly at night which is often put down to the menopause. 

You can find loads more info about overactive thyroid gland, causes and treatment, at Thyroid UK.

Panic attacks 

A panic attack is defined as a discrete episode of intense subjective fear, where at least four of the characteristic symptoms, listed below, arise rapidly and peak within 10 minutes of the onset of the attack:

  • what feels like an irregular or racing heart (palpitations)
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath (hyperventilation)
  • a choking sensation
  • nausea 
  • dizziness 
  • tingling fingers
  • ringing in your ears
  • sweating

Attacks tend to last at least 10 minutes, but duration varies. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by your body going into 'fight or flight' mode. The body tries to take in more oxygen, breathing quickens. The body also releases hormones, such as adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up and a hot flush to develop. 

    How to relieve hot flushes?

    Natural relief for hot flushes and sweats tends to be much the same for men as women. To find tips to help relieve hot flushes check out our symptoms section on Hot Help for Hot Flushes.

    For many people, hot flushes gradually get better over several months. For some the flushes last as long as they are having any medical treatment, tending to reduce over time.