How Long Do Hot Flashes Last?

5 minute read

By: Sheryl Kraft|Last updated: May 10, 2022
Medically reviewed by: Sharon D. Malone

Is it hot in here — or is it you?

Hot flashes are the hallmark of menopause. And while not every menopausal woman will experience hot flashes, most — up to 80 percent — will.

If you’re not familiar with the hot flash or other menopausal symptoms, here’s what you need to know: it’s that sudden spontaneous surge of intense heat that makes you wonder if someone is messing with the thermostat. (Nope, it’s your inner thermostat that’s gone haywire.) You’ll easily recognize this blast-furnace heat, and when you do, your inner clock starts ticking.

How long do hot flashes last? you wonder, as you furiously fan your face.

Hot flashes usually begin in the years leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause, when circulating levels of the hormone estrogen begin to fluctuate wildly. In fact, getting a hot flash is usually when women wake up to the fact that something is beginning to change in their bodies.

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How Long Do Hot Flashes Last?

The Anatomy of a Hot Flash

The cause of severe hot flashes is only partially understood. The most popular theory? Erratic hormonal fluctuations, which affect your body’s ability to regulate temperature.

In the years leading up to menopause, your body becomes more sensitive to heat and cold. To get more technical, your body’s “thermoneutral zone” narrows. (This is the zone that your body considers to be “neutral.”) As a result, your body detects changes in temperature a lot more quickly than it normally does.

When your body detects it’s being overheated, it silently screams, “Get rid of the heat!” and goes into overdrive, trying to cool itself down.

In order to cool off, your hypothalamus (a part of your brain that regulates body temperature) goes haywire, instructing your blood vessels near your skin to expand.

This expansion allows more blood to flow through your blood vessels, and in doing so, releases heat.

The excess heat from this blood flow leads to sweating, which is usually followed by feeling chilled and shivering, as your body reacts to being overheated.

Since your body is working very hard, after a hot flash you may feel just plain wrung out.

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How Long Do Hot Flashes Last?

How Long Do Hot Flashes Last?

The word “flash” might make you think that a hot flash is brief, or will move very quickly.

Not so fast.

Some women get a hot flash that lasts 30 seconds. Think that’s long for a single symptom? Not when you consider that for others, a hot flash can last (a very long) 10 minutes. How often hot flashes hit varies, too. Some women get one or two a day, or even just a few over the course of a week, while others get one or two an hour, or all throughout the day and night. (When they occur at night, they’re known as night sweats.)

The intensity of a hot flash symptom can range from a mere spark to an all-out inferno. Some women’s hot flashes are extreme enough to soak through their clothing; others simply need to dab ever-so-daintily at their upper lip to get rid of some beads of perspiration.

You might be ready to say goodbye to your hot flashes, yet they could dig in their heels for a while. Some women will experience hot flashes for only about six months. But there also are those of the stubborn variety: hot flashes can affect women long after menopause (upwards of 14 years, by some estimates. Yes, women in their 70s and 80s can still be seen fanning themselves furiously). The good news? Hot flashes will usually lessen in intensity as time passes and you go into a late menopause transition.

Hot Flash Trivia

• The earlier in age that you get hot flashes, the longer you’ll have them.

• Hot flashes last for more years for African Americans and Hispanics than they do for white and Asian women.

• Overweight or obese women are more likely to experience more frequent and severe hot flashes.

• Hot flashes can sometimes present with similar symptoms as a panic attack or a heart attack.

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How Long Do Hot Flashes Last?

What to Expect During a Hot Flash

• Before a hot flash strikes, some women feel an uneasy feeling, or an “aura.”

• Typically, hot flashes heat up your face, arms, neck and chest – although you can feel them down to your toes.

• Hot flashes are sometimes accompanied by red, flushed or blotchy skin.

• You may also feel palpitations, nausea, confusion, dizziness, anxiety or a headache during a hot flash.

Hot Flash Triggers

So what causes hot flashes? Sometimes, hot flashes happen spontaneously. But hot flashes can also be triggered or worsened by:

• Caffeine

• Alcohol

• Spicy foods

• Stress or anxiety

• Certain health conditions like an overactive thyroid or diabetes

• Hot weather

• Smoking

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How to Tame the Flames

Like mishaps and misadventures, menopausal hot flashes usually pop up at inconvenient times, like in the middle of a business presentation or when you’re at a posh party trying to look your composed best.

You may not be able to get a restraining order and banish hot flashes, night sweats, and other menopause symptoms from your life (well, not yet, anyway), but in the meantime, there are some practical steps to co-exist semi-peacefully:

• Keep your room cool, especially when you sleep. It also helps to keep air circulating with a fan or air conditioning.

• Dress in removable layers, which you can start peeling off when a hot flash strikes.

• Wear cotton PJs or a nightgown (or sleep in the nude).

• Use cotton — not synthetic — sheets.

• Keep a glass of ice water to sip on throughout the day (and night).

• Don’t smoke — it’s linked to increased heat surges

• Don’t go anywhere without a portable fan.

• If you’re overweight, lose weight.

• Try deep breathing. A study by the Mayo Clinic found that it can help reduce menopausal hot flashes. (We normally take 12 to 14 breaths a minute; this technique slows it down to 5 to 7 a minute.)

• Consider a Mediterranean diet filled with fresh veggies, fruits and whole grains. According to studies, this may help reduce hot flashes for some women.

While how long a hot flash will last is different for every menopausal woman, there is one thing for certain: they don’t last forever. That, we promise. If your hot flashes have become an inferno, it’s time to get help.

Experts agree that for the vast majority of healthy women, supplementing your body's natural hormones is the safest and most effective treatment to ease the vasomotor symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes and night sweats. Head to our product page to check out your options. A menopause-trained doctor will review your choices to make sure you get the right treatment.

Sources:

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/menopause-related-hot-flashes-night-sweats-can-last-years-201502237745https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/perimenopause-rocky-road-to-menopause

  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hot-flashes/symptoms-causes/syc-20352790

  3. https://www.breastcancer.org/tips/menopausal/treat/hot-flashes

  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hot-flashes/expert-answers/paced-breathing/faq-20119343

  5. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-and-symptoms-menopause

  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-does-a-hot-flash-feel-like#duration

  7. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopause-faqs-hot-flashes

  8. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/expert-answers-to-frequently-asked-questions-about-menopause/hot-flash-faqs-triggers-symptoms-treatments

  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11400216/

  10. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/hot-flushes/

  11. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/did-i-just-have-a-hot-flash-im-44

  12. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/hot-flashes-what-can-i-do

  13. https://www.fredhutch.org/content/dam/www/research/patient-treatment-and-support/survivorship-program/survivorship-health-links/Menopausal%20Symptoms.pdf

  14. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/97/5/1092/4577089

  15. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hot-flashes/symptoms-causes/syc-20352790

  16. https://www.rush.edu/news/how-body-regulates-heat#:~:text=During%20a%20hot%20flash%2C%20the,woman%20having%20the%20hot%20flash.

Written by:

Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft is a seasoned freelance health writer, who writes, and is passionate about, healthy aging, wellness, fitness, nutrition and just about anything related to improving our lifestyle and personal health. Her work has been published widely in print and online outlets, including AARP, Parade, Family Circle, Weight Watchers, Spry, Prevention, WebMD, Everyday Health and many more. Sheryl lives in Fairfield County, CT., with husband Alan and new puppy Annie, and is the mother of two grown sons, Jonathan and Jeremy.

Medically reviewed by:

Sharon D. Malone

Dr. Sharon Malone is among the nation’s leading obstetrician / gynecologists with a focus on the specific health challenges associated with menopause.