I have always heard peri-menopausal and menopausal women complain of hot flashes like they were horrific occurrences, yet I figured they were similar to getting flushed, so they really couldn’t be THAT bad. Oh how wrong I was! Hot flashes can best be described as a SUDDEN and intense heat and sweating in the chest, neck and face which feels like someone cranked up the heater to a thousand degrees. To use fancy medical terminology, it SUCKS. Women look like they’re crazy when they rapidly start loosening and removing clothing, fanning themselves with magazines, standing in front of fans, and sticking their heads in the freezer. I can tell you that I have done every one of these things, and when I am in the midst of finding a way to cool down, I don’t care one whit who thinks I have gone bonkers. You would be in a rush too if you were being cooked from the inside!
If you are still trying to imagine what a hot flash feels like, picture this: you are going about your usual business, when out of nowhere, a switch gets flipped inside your upper chest and you experience a heat quite similar to Bikram yoga rooms. It is relentless too, causing instant sweating and discomfort. Recently I have been experiencing some very strong hot flashes which have necessitated desperate measures such as ripping off every shred of clothing and lying on a linoleum floor to cool off, wrapping a cool pack around my neck while I sat in front of my computer and worked, and walking around Chicago O’Hare International Airport wearing a tank top and fanning myself while everyone else wore heavy coats which were appropriate for the 35 degree Fahrenheit weather outside.
The main reason why hot flashes occur is a drop in estrogen levels which the hypothalamus misinterprets as an increase in body temperature, causing the body to react to cool it down. These episodes can occur at any time, but in my estimation are the worst when they occur during sleep. Over the past two weeks, it has been impossible for me to sleep for more than an hour before I experience a SEVERE hot flash which has me running to the freezer to grab an ice pack to snuggle up with! It has become a ritual: Fall asleep, wake up an hour later drenched in sweat. Spend the next 15 minutes trying to stop sweating, then finally fall asleep exhausted. Repeat cycle each hour to two hours until alarm goes off in morning. It is utter misery. This also may occur for up to fifteen years, even after I go through menopause. In the current vernacular, all I have to say to that is, WTF???