Are Hot Flashes The First Symptom of Menopause?
With an estimated time of arrival, a long transition phase of 8-10 years, and an undetermined ending point, it’s clear that menopause is a complex, confusing, and sometimes frightening time for women. One of the most common and unpleasant symptoms of the menopause transition is hot flashes, which are characterized by intense feelings of warmth, sweating, and chills. But, are hot flashes the first sign to expect when going through menopause? Let’s jump in and find out!
What Are Hot Flashes & When Do Women Experience Them?
A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat in the upper body, often accompanied by flushing in the face and neck. You may develop red blotches on your chest, arms, and back, and experience heavy sweating that eventually causes cold shivers. While hot flashes can be mild and short, lasting anywhere from 30-seconds to a few minutes, they can also be strong, lasting upwards of 10+ minutes.
When hot flashes happen at night, they are called night sweats, and are often the cause of sleep disturbances. When experiencing night sweats, you may wake up drenched in sweat, with your sheets and pajamas soaked. In addition to disrupting sleep, night sweats may make some women feel embarrassed for needing to change clothes or the bedding multiple times a night.
How Frequent Are Hot Flashes?
The frequency of hot flashes varies between women, ranging from several times an hour, to a few times a day, to only a few times a week. In terms of how long one experiences hot flashes for, it can range from never experiencing them, to having them for 2-7 years during the perimenopause and menopause phases.
Hot Flashes, Perimenopause, & Menopause Phases
While hot flashes are certainly a common symptom in both the perimenopause and menopause phases, only about 75% of women experience them. Every 2 out of 10, women never get hot flashes, and don’t consider them to be their first sign of menopause. So, are hot flashes the first symptom of menopause? Yes, and no. It is for some women, and not for others.
When Do Hot Flashes Show Up in Menopausal Stages?
- Perimenopause: this is the period of time leading up to menopause, and is characterized by fluctuations in hormone levels, changes in your period, sleeping problems, hot flashes, and mood changes. Even though women experience menopausal symptoms during pre-menopause, you can still have menstrual cycles and become pregnant. Perimenopause usually begins in your 40s, but can begin as early as the mid-30s.
- Menopause: you’ve officially reached menopause when you’ve stopped having menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months. This involves a permanent change in the amount of estrogen and progesterone you’re releasing, and it means that your ovaries will no longer release eggs, so you can no longer become pregnant. Menopause symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, urinary urgency, difficulty sleeping, emotional changes, dry skin, weight gain, headaches, changes in libido, and difficulty concentrating. Menopause occurs between the ages of 45-55, and is considered premature if it occurs at 40 or below.
- Postmenopause: this is the last stage in the transition, in which your hormone levels will remain low, stable, and you’ll have no monthly period. However, you can still experience hot flashes during this stage, as well as insomnia, depression, vaginal dryness, dry skin, weight changes, hair loss, and urinary incontinence.
So, while hot flashes are certainly a common symptom of menopause, they are not always the first sign that you’ll experience. In fact, some women may not experience hot flashes at all, and will instead notice other symptoms first like changes in their period, sleep disturbances, and mood changes. Finally, if you are experiencing hot flashes and aren’t sure whether you’re going through the menopausal transition, it’s important to seek medical care, as hot flashes can pop up in thyroid disorders and in certain kinds of cancers.
Want to know more about hot flashes and menopause? At Clinical Research Philadelphia, we are dedicated to helping women navigate the often-confusing and uncomfortable world of menopausal symptoms. Contact us to learn more about our research trials and how they can help you manage your symptoms and feel better.