All women will go through menopause. For American women, the mean age is 51. The symptoms of menopause vary as greatly as women do. Some women experience no symptoms while others have severe symptoms. Some women have symptoms for years while others may have them for only months. The most well-known symptom is the hot flash. But cold flashes are just as likely to occur.
Menopause is a natural, biological process defined as the permanent end of menstruation and fertility, occurring 12 months after your last menstrual period, and it can trigger both physical and emotional symptoms. Hormones play a large role in the many symptoms that may occur, such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, night sweats, hot flashes, cold flashes, irregular periods, chills, mood swings, hair loss or hair thinning.
A cold flash, often called the chills, is a sudden feeling of intense cold, usually accompanied with shivering. The difference between cold and shivering as a reaction to weather as opposed to a medical condition is the unexpected situation in which it happens. The brain monitors and regulates the body's temperature, according to the University of Illinois Medical Center, and when something throws it off balance, such as menopause, chemicals will travel through the bloodstream, causing the brain to raise the normal temperature set point. This causes you to feel cold and shiver to help your body's temperature rise to meet the new set point.
Due to estrogen levels decreasing, hormonal and biochemical imbalances occur. The falling estrogen levels are thought to be the cause of both hot and cold flashes. The hypothalamus, the area of the brain responsible for body temperature regulation, becomes overactive. This causes the hypothalamus to release chemicals that cause blood vessels in the skin to expand in order for heat to be emitted. The end result is a cold flash.
Though not as common as a hot flash, some women experience only a cold flash, with or without the sweat. It can last for minutes, hours or days. For some, even hot drinks, hot baths or blankets are not enough to relieve the chill. Often, the measures taken to relieve the cold flash will lead to a hot flash and once more to chills. Again, the temperature-regulatory center in the brain is responding to fluctuating hormone levels.
Robert R. Freedman, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University in Detroit, in a 2002 article published online by the North American Menopause Society, describes a study that suggested a "narrowed thermoneutral zone" in menopausal women. The thermoneutral zone is the body temperature at which neither sweating nor shivering takes place. When body temperature rises above or below a certain threshold, we sweat or shiver respectively. In this study of symptomatic menopausal women, the shivering threshold was higher and the sweating threshold was lower, reducing the thermoneutral zone, so that even slight changes in core body temperature caused a hot flash or chills.
Stress, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, food additives and being in warm places can all trigger hot flashes that may lead to chills. Similarly, cold drinks, cold weather and emotional turmoil may trigger a cold flash, though it is entirely possibly to experience a cold flash when the ambient temperature is hot and vice versa. Sometimes, unfortunately, there is no trigger at all except your changing body.
First, avoid hot flashes that lead to chills by cutting out smoking and caffeine. Avoid spicy foods. For cold flashes, try hot drinks, hot baths, sweaters or blankets. Keeping feet and hands warm can often help warm the rest of the body. Have warm slippers available that you can easily slip into and out of as your body temperature fluctuates. If the episodes become too disruptive, don't be afraid to see your doctor, who may be able to prescribe medication or alternative remedies to even out your body-temperature roller coaster.
Thyroid function tends to diminish at the same age women are prone to menopause. When the thyroid is not functioning adequately, low body temperature can result. Don't assume the cause of your chills is menopause. It might be worth having your thyroid function checked. Make a blood test to check your thyroid. In most cases, it is easily treatable.
Estrogen replacement therapy is a popular hormone therapy often used by women during menopause and is an effective treatment for body temperature regulation. Other medications, such as low dose antidepressants, gabapentin and clonidine, can help reduce cold or hot flashes. Traditional remedies, such as a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate consumption of water, are all ways to help reduce menopause symptoms. Another suggestion is wearing layered clothing to accommodate for the temperature changes. During a cold flash, it helps to get up and move around to increase blood circulation.
Note that there might other non-related to menopause causes for cold flashes, which may be due to the medical conditions and some medication you take to treat them. Consult with your physician if you have any doubts.
Menopause is a fact of life but it is not a medical condition to which there is a cure. Contact your doctor if you feel your symptoms are interrupting your daily life. Treatments can help alleviate symptoms such as cold flashes.
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