Intense heat sensations in the upper parts of the body accompanied by abrupt increased heart rate, heavy sweating, and rising flushing of face, neck, chest, etc., is termed as hot flashes. Although they are commonly associated with menopause, they may occur during pregnancy as well. Women oblivious of its occurrence may panic at its onset. However, hot flashes during pregnancy is not something to be intimidated about and is a normal phenomenon befalling many pregnant women. Their duration varies approximately from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, with their frequency and intensity varying from one woman to another. Some women experience hot flashes all the time, while others do not encounter them at all.
A detailed study conducted by medical researchers revealed that over 50% of the hot flashes starts in the ears, neck, head, and scalp. Of this percentage, 28% women experienced hot flashes in the neck or breasts, while the other 24% experienced it below the breasts. The rest 48% felt hot flashes all over the body. With respect to the intensity, it was noted that 48% symptoms were rated mild. This means the flash was quick, barely noticeable, and did not cause any disturbance. 39% was moderate, which means the flashes were longer-lasting and warmer, accompanied by perspiration in certain areas. The remaining 13% experienced severe hot flashes, compelling women to stop whatever they were doing to find a way of cooling down.
Reasons for Hot Flashes during Pregnancy
Hot flashes are predominantly observed to occur during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Scores of women are found casting away the covers at night due to an intense sensation of warmth.
Changes in Hormone Levels: Pregnancy affects two major hormones: estrogen and progesterone. The body of pregnant women produces higher levels of estrogen as compared to non-pregnant women. Estrogen levels continue to increase until delivery of the baby and is responsible for the development of the fetus. Progesterone, another hormone is also produced in large quantities. High progesterone levels cause loosening of joints and ligaments in the entire body. Internal structures such as ureters, uterus, etc., increase in size. These hormonal changes spearhead mood swings and hot flashes during pregnancy.
Body Temperature Changes: Core temperature and basal metabolic rate of pregnant women increase continuously. Experts suggest that hot flashes are conduced by a rise in heat in the brain's body temperature controlling areas. Pregnancy involves increase in basal body temperature which spearheads hot flashes.
Besides hormonal and body temperature changes, even intake of spicy foods and hot weather can trigger hot flashes. This is why pregnant women find the summer months really stressful.
How to handle Hot flashes During Pregnancy?
Mild hot flashes can be managed by making some simple modifications in daily patterns. Pregnant women should avoid spicy food, caffeine, diet pills, alcohol, smoking, and very hot environment. Avoidance of these will automatically help reduce the intensity of hot flashes. Moderate flashes should be handled with a little more care. Besides some lifestyle modifications, pregnant women need to refrain from acupuncture, herbal remedies, and mild over-the-counter medications.
There is no clear cut treatment to meliorate severe cases of hot flashes. Women experiencing them during menopause undergo hormone therapy to curb onset of severe hot flashes. However, the same remedy cannot be applied to pregnant women, for fear of miscarriage. Antidepressants like clodinine and methyldopa are also not recommended as they get into the bloodstream of the fetus. Thus, pregnant women have to opt for different methods like relaxation techniques and exercise, to control the hot flashes. Early afternoon exercises, thirty minutes a day helps reduce their intensity. Going for walks or swimming also proves beneficial.
Besides exercise, consuming some soy products can help reduce the condition. Pregnant women should avoid hot drinks, hot baths, stress, etc. It is advisable for pregnant women to wear loose clothing, so as to give the body room to breathe. They are also advised to wear cotton pajamas or gowns while sleeping and the room in which they sleep should be cool. There is yet another way to control the hot flashes: taking a deep breath from the abdomen and exhale slowly through the nose. This will help reduce discomfort. Taking cool baths, drinking lots of cold water, and using hand fans to cool down body temperature can help curb the intensity of the hot flashes.
Hot flashes during pregnancy is not something to be worried about. It is a common phenomenon and with proper care, one can reduce the severity. Besides, one should remember that these flashes are only temporary!
Disclaimer: This HerHaleness article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.