No one looks forward to a hot flash. Up to 80 percent of women experience this annoyance during perimenopause — the period of time before the last menstrual cycle. Did you know that hot flashes last seven years on average and sometimes continue to be a problem after menopause has set in? Do you know what’s going on with your body as you have a hot flash? Read on to learn.
Two essential hormones are churned out by your ovaries: progesterone and estrogen. When you enter into perimenopause, the functioning of your ovaries begins to decline as well as the amount of these two hormones.
When estrogen declines, it confuses the hypothalamus, which is the part of your brain responsible for making hormones that control different functions including body temperature, mood, and hunger. If there is a sudden dip in estrogen, it tells your body that you are too hot, even if you are not actually feeling that way.
When you get that overheating alert from the hypothalamus, the brain triggers the alarms of the nervous system and sends stress and additional mood hormones, such as prostaglandin, epinephrine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, through your system and turns on cooling mechanisms in the heart, sweat glands, and skin.
Prior to a hot flash some women feel dread or tension and others experience and aura (visual symptoms) like dark spots or flashing lights that are caused by changes in the cortex area of the brain.
The skin’s temperature can rise five to seven degrees during a hot flash–this can feel like an extreme change. But your body temperature will most likely not go above the average 98.6.
In order to increase the flow of blood to your skin to get the blood vessels to dilate, your heart beats more quickly. The opening of the blood vessels aids in eliminating heat from the skin. It is what causes the “hot-flash look” — flushed face and upper body.
Sweat glands release sweat to cool the body down. The sweat evaporates into the air and lowers your body temperature. This ultimately cools you down and may even make you feel a little bit cold.