Ever find yourself feeling hot and flustered and described it as having a hot flush? Although many people joke about this symptom, for 80% of women who experience side effects during the menopause, they can be totally debilitating.
Caused by low and fluctuating levels of oestrogen, hot flushes happen when the blood vessels close to the skin expand unnecessarily - leading to redness and sweating you’d normally only achieve through heavy exercise.
Although to most people that might sound like an annoyance at worst, they are no joke for those going through them.
To mark National Menopause Awareness Day (18 October) which aims to raise awareness of the health issues faced by women during “the change”, HuffPost UK has spoken to three women about why hot flushes are not a laughing matter.
1. Hot flushes affect 75% of women.
There are generally considered to be 34 side effects of the menopause and the most common are hot flushes.
Diane Danzebrink, menopause counsellor and founder of Menopause Support, says: “Hot flushes affect approximately 75% of women, who are going through the menopause”.
2. Hot flushes can dominate a large part of your life.
The average age for a woman in the UK to reach the menopause is 52 (although it does affect an estimated 1% of women under 40 and 0.1% under 30).
Dr Helen Webberley, GP at My Web Doctor, reminds us that this isn’t late in life.
“Many modern-day women are only around half way through their life expectancy by the time they reach the menopause,” she explains.
The menopause is often written off as a ‘flash in the pan’ that only affects women for a few months, but in the same way as puberty, it can exhibit frustrating side effects for many years.
Danzebrink says: “Every woman’s experience is different and the length, regularity and severity of her hot flushes can vary greatly.
“Some women experience hot flushes for a few years, others for many years, these can be very mild and infrequent through to very regular and debilitating.”
3. Hot flushes happen for no particular reason.
There aren’t necessarily particular triggers for hot flushes, they can happen for no reason, at any time, and are very difficult to control.
Jane Hallam, 51, Stockport, whose hot flushes started at 48, says she finds it difficult to cope with the unpredictability of her symptoms:
“You going out wondering whether or not you are going to have a hot flush in public,” she says.
“There is just a rise in temperature which feels like a volcano is about to erupt through your body... then they are incredibly uncomfortable as you are very very hot and then very very cold and damp without any warning.”
4. Hot flushes can leave you needing to change clothes.
It is a common misconception that a hot flush is just a rush of heat, but this can also mean increased perspiration (ie. some serious sweating).
Jane explains the difficulties this can pose for women at work.
“Women who experience them during the day need to keep changes of clothing with them just in case they're needed," she says.
"As you can imagine in the workplace this is embarrassing as well as debilitating.”
5. Hot flushes can be so bad you have to quit your job.
Having to bring a change of clothes and slink off to the toilet isn’t exactly ideal.
In fact, Danzebrink has come across women in her counselling sessions who have actually taken the decision to give up their jobs and careers due to the severity of their symptoms.
6. Hot flushes can affect the quality of your sleep.
Hot flushes are also a problem in the privacy of your own home because they affect your sleep, leading to fatigue and exhaustion.
Not to mention having to change the bed sheets on a regular basis because of night sweats.
For Jane the lack of sleep had a knock-on impact on her waking hours.
“Initially the impact was upon my ability to concentrate during the day through lack of sleep, and waking up cold and incredibly damp in a puddly mess," she explains.
"I was regularly having to change bedding, including mattress protector, which is damp.”
7. Hot flushes can affect your personal relationships.
The less obvious impact of hot flushes and night sweats can be on personal relationships, as women don’t want to be as intimate or find themselves becoming frustrated.
Danzebrink says: “For those women who experience hot flushes any form of physical contact can be intensely uncomfortable and can lead to partners feeling rejected particularly when communication has broken down.
It is not unusual for women to struggle to talk about what is happening to them even with partners and family, partly because many women don’t understand what is happening to them.”