A hot flash is a feeling of warmth spreading over the body that is often most strongly felt in the head and neck regions. Hot flashes may be accompanied by perspiration or flushing and usually last from 30 seconds to several minutes. Although hot flashes are a characteristic symptom of perimenopause, rare tumors, and other medical conditions may sometimes also cause hot flashes. Taking certain medications, eating spicy foods, and the consumption of alcohol have also been associated with the occurrence of hot flashes.
Although the exact cause of hot flashes is not fully understood, hot flashes that occur in the perimenopause are thought to be due to a combination of hormonal and biochemical fluctuations brought on by declining estrogen levels. Hot flashes can often begin before the menstrual irregularities characteristic of menopause are even noticed. Up to 40% of regularly menstruating women in their 40s report having hot flashes. About 80% of women will be finished having hot flashes after five years, but sometimes they may persist for a longer time period. Hot flashes can sometimes be accompanied by night sweats (episodes of drenching sweats occurring at nighttime).
Hot flashes can also occur in men. Most commonly, they arise as a result of a dramatic drop in testosterone levels in men who have their testes surgically removed (as part of the treatment for prostate cancer) or who are taking medications that counteract the effects of testosterone.