ANATOMY OF A HOT FLASH

Am I the only one here who sleeps with a fan going year round?

Anyone else standing by open windows in January?  Shedding clothes in the supermarket line?

Can I get a show of hands if you’re blotting sweat from your face when all you did was…well…nothing?

Anyone else changing soaked bed sheets in the middle of the night?

Welcome to the wonderful world of menopause, be it natural or forced.

Hot flashes and night sweats.  They’re the same beast, aside from the fact that night sweats occur when you’re all cozy in bed.  Sometimes you wake up in time to get out from under the covers.  If you happen to sleep through, you wake up in soggy jammies.

My joyful transition began the night of September 10, 2001.  Though my room was comfortably cool, I kept waking up sweaty.  Weird.

It got worse from there.

Every fifteen to twenty minutes, round the clock, unbearable heat rose from somewhere inside me, flushing my skin and drenching me in sweat, finally leaving me chilled to the bone.

It sucked.  Big time.

Over the next eight years, desperate for relief, I tried every “natural” remedy I could find.  Black cohosh, evening primrose oil, combinations of “phytoestrogens,” you name it.  Hormone replacement therapy wasn’t an option because mom died of breast cancer.

Nothing worked.

Instead of getting better over time the episodes grew more intense.  I was getting NO sleep.  When it got to the point where I didn’t care if I lived or died I called my doctor.

“Did your family make you call?”

Ha-ha.

My only remaining option was hormone replacement therapy.

For eight or nine years I downed “bio-identical” estradiol and natural progesterone every day and the horrible sweats subsided a bit, becoming more like “warm” flashes.

I felt great!  Being able to sleep stabilized my moods and gave me tons of energy.

Then I got cancer.

Hormone driven.

They took away my estrogen.

Aaaaand….here I am, back in hot flash heaven.

This time every thirty to forty minutes, but still round the clock, I feel chilled to shaking.  That’s my warning sign.  Then the flames ignite and I’m scrambling for the nearest fan.

Since I’m gonna be in this boat for a long time, I wanted to find out just what keeps it afloat.

What causes hot flashes…and the chills that accompany them?

Believe it or not, hot flashes are largely a brain thing, which explains why certain antidepressant medications may offer some relief.

The jury is still out on what exactly causes this common, annoying and sometimes debilitating  menopausal symptom, and researchers are scrambling to figure it out, possibly because whoever gets it will be a gazillionaire!

Until then, here’s a theory that works for me:

Pituitary gland anatomical vector illustration diagram, educational medical scheme with brain and hormone types.

Your ovaries are the main producers of estrogen (though it’s also produced in the adrenal glands and in fat cells)  but they have to be told when and how much to produce.

Your hypothalamus is the master control and temperature regulating center of your brain.  It also controls sleep and wake cycles, stress tolerance, energy and metabolism.

The pituitary is the middle manager, following orders from hypothalamus to regulate metabolism through the thyroid, stress through the adrenal glands and estrogen production in the ovaries.

To keep you feeling comfortable, hypothalamus sends a signal (gonadotropin releasing hormone) to the pituitary, requesting more estrogen, which is important in temperature control.

Pituitary then sends a message in the form of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone)  and LH ( luteinizing hormone) to the ovaries, telling them to ramp up production of estrogen.

But, lo, the ovaries are cruising towards retirement.  They can’t fill the order.

Pituitary throws up his hands and sends a message back to the hypothalamus that there isn’t any estrogen.

“But we need it!” the body screams.  “She’s chilled and can’t sleep.  She’s a moody mess and gaining belly fat!”

Requests for more estrogen pour in.

Hypothalamus yells for pituitary to send more FSH and LH.

Ovaries are not accepting new orders so pituitary notifies the boss, but the crowds are growing angry.

Hypothalamus forces pituitary to work extra shifts and they go into overdrive, releasing more and more FSH and LH into the body.

The adrenal glands get their hands on some of that extra FSH and LH and use it to release the stress hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine.

These bad boys are nothing short of thrilled to dilate your blood vessels, bringing you insane heat, accompanied by profuse sweating and a lovely red face.

Power surge, my ass!   Hope you brought a change of clothes.

Next life I’m coming back as a guy.

 

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

 

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