Magazine article Newsweek

Menopause: Anatomy of a Hot Flash

Magazine article Newsweek

Menopause: Anatomy of a Hot Flash

Article excerpt

Byline: Carolyn R. Schatz and Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D.; Schatz and Robb-Nicholson are the editor and editor in chief of the Harvard Women's Health Watch. For more info on hot flashes, go to health.harvard.edu/NEWSWEEK.

Hot flashes are no joke when they leave you soaked in sweat and feeling dazed. Technically, hot flashes exaggerate how the body normally cools down: blood vessels dilate, letting more blood reach the skin to release heat. They tend to come on rapidly and last from one to five minutes. They range in severity from a fleeting sense of warmth to a feeling of being on fire. Some women have just a few during a week; others get them day and night.

For American women, vasomotor symptoms are common around menopause, but the experience isn't universal: fewer Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian women report having hot flashes. Scientists say such differences may reflect cultural variations in lifestyle, semantics and attitudes. Genetics could be involved. Smoking and obesity increase the likelihood of hot flashes, for unknown reasons.

Researchers have studied the physiology of hot flashes for more than 30 years but still don't know exactly how or why they occur. Scientist Robert R. Freedman and his colleagues at Detroit's Wayne State University School of Medicine have measured skin temperature, blood flow, heart rate and sweating in menopausal women before, during and after hot flashes. They've found that women who experience hot flashes have a much lower tolerance for small increases in the body's innermost, or core, temperature. …

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