What are the vasomotor symptoms of menopause?

Estrogen and progesterone levels begin to decline in females at around the age of 40 years, and perimenopause, the transition to menopause, starts. A female can experience vasomotor symptoms as this transition progresses.

Vasomotor signs are those that arise due to blood vessels being constricted or dilated.

These include hot flashes, sweats at night, palpitations in the heart, and blood pressure changes. The most likely explanation why these symptoms may occur during menopause is that the mechanisms that regulate blood pressure and temperature control are impaired by hormonal fluctuations.

Hot flashes during menopause are encountered by up to 75 percent of women in the United States, according to the North American Menopause Society. Hot flashes typically happen over a span of 6 months to 2 years, but they may be experienced by a person for up to 10 years.

Menopause normally occurs between the ages of 45 and 58 years in the U.S. The average menopausal age is 52 years. 12 months after their last day a person enters menopause.

During perimenopause, hot flashes and other symptoms may begin when menstruation still continues, or they may begin after the end of a person’s periods. Not everybody has these symptoms, and within people, they can differ in severity.

Earlier in life, some individuals begin menopause. This can arise spontaneously in some circumstances, but in others it may be due to surgery, a health disorder, or some kinds of medical care.

Symptoms

Hot flashes are a common vasomotor symptom of menopause.
Hot flashes are a common vasomotor symptom of menopause.

Menopause is not a health condition. It is a natural change that most women will undergo in their lives. The hormonal changes it involves, however can lead to particular symptoms.

In the way the cardiovascular system functions, hormones play a part. They can affect the circulatory system because their levels fluctuate. They can also mess with how body temperature is regulated by the nervous system.

The main vasomotor symptom is hot flashes. A sudden sensation of heat impacts the chest, neck and face during a hot flash. The skin can become red in these areas.

In addition to hot flashes, a person may experience:

  • sweating, including night sweats
  • sleep disturbances
  • anxiety
  • heart palpitations

These symptoms appear to affect individuals for about a year. 17% of females, however may continue to experience them for many years.

If treatment, such as chemotherapy, starts with menopause, the person can find that the related symptoms stop and menstruation begins again once the treatment is over. This is not true for everybody, though. Is this a hot flash or something else?

Causes

The causes of hot flashes are likely to be neurovascular, meaning they occur when the portion of the nervous system that controls circulation changes.

Experts agree that changes in the part of the brain that controls body temperature result in hot flashes. Sudden drops in the levels of estrogen can cause them, but exactly what role this hormone plays is unclear.

There is evidence that the use of supplemental estrogen helps alleviate symptoms, but a link between circulating hormone levels and the severity of symptoms has not been identified by scientists.

Possible triggers for hot flashes include:

  • eating spicy foods
  • drinking coffee or alcohol
  • wearing clothing that is too warm for the environment
  • having a high temperature
  • smoking
  • stress
  • some medical treatments and drugs
  • some health conditions, such as diabetes, tuberculosis, or an overactive thyroid

They can also occur without any obvious cause, however.

Some forms of cancer care, irrespective of a person’s age or sex, may also contribute to hot flashes.

Risk factors

During menopause, vasomotor symptoms are common, but not everyone experiences them.

Smoking and obesity are factors that could increase the risk.

According to the National Institute on Aging, hot flashes can occur over a longer period in African American and Hispanic females than in white or Asian Americans.

Complications

Hot flashes and sweating are typically not dangerous, but they can lead to discomfort, and the exposure of the symptoms can make certain individuals feel humiliated.

Hot flashes do not contribute to menopause in some situations, but may result from nervous or vascular system issues. These hot flashes may be a symptom of changes, such as cardiovascular disease or dementia, that may lead to other conditions.

People should see their doctor if:

  • hot flashes interfere with their daily life
  • they have other symptoms, such as diarrhea, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, or a general feeling of being unwell
  • they are at risk of another health condition, such as diabetes or thyroid problems

Seeing a doctor will help an individual get medication to boost their levels of comfort and alleviate anxiety. Physicians may also recognise other root causes of vasomotor symptoms, should these be present.

Treatment

To help people control hot flashes, a doctor can prescribe medication.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy works at regulating the body’s hormone levels. It can help alleviate hot flashes and other symptoms, but since it can lead to side effects, it is not ideal for everyone.

For patients with a history or a high risk of specific conditions, like cardiovascular disease, stroke, breast cancer, uterine cancer, and liver disease, a physician does not prescribe hormone therapy.

Antidepressant drugs

Antidepressants might help, such as paroxetine (Paxil). For menopause symptoms, a doctor will typically prescribe a lower dose than for depression. Headaches, nausea, and drowsiness are potential side effects.

During menopause, many individuals have mild symptoms and do not use medicine. An individual should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using drugs with their physician.

Lifestyle remedies

During menopause, some lifestyle practices can help an individual handle hot flashes.

These include:

  • avoiding known triggers, such as spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine
  • quitting smoking, if applicable, or avoiding secondhand smoke
  • dressing in layers so that it is easy to remove a layer if a hot flash occurs
  • carrying a water bottle containing ice water to sip if a hot flash starts
  • keeping a portable fan nearby
  • keeping the bedroom cool at night
  • avoiding exercise immediately before bedtime
  • practicing deep breathing and relaxation exercises
  • following a healthful diet and getting regular exercise
  • reaching or maintaining a moderate weight

A 2012 study indicated that during menopause, women who lost 10% or more of their body weight through dietary changes experienced a decrease in or end of vasomotor symptoms. The scientists looked at data from 17,473 women.

Alternative therapies are used by certain persons, such as black cohosh, dehydroepiandrosterone

(DHEA), for hot flashes, or soya isoflavones. However there is no evidence that they can benefit, according to the National Institute on Aging, and their long-term effects are uncertain.

Before using any herbal therapies, supplements, or other types of menopause medicine, it is best to talk to a doctor.

Outlook

A common feature of menopause is vasomotor symptoms, especially hot flashes. They’re not experienced by everyone, and they can affect people differently.

Anyone who feels that their daily life is greatly impaired by vasomotor symptoms should talk to a doctor who can prescribe medications or lifestyle changes that may help.

Read more about what you should expect during menopause here.

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