Hot flashes sure can make you feel as if you’re running the worst fever of all time – but they don’t actually increase your body temperature.
Hot flashes, common during perimenopause (the span of years starting when periods start to get erratic and ending just after they stop altogether) are caused by fluctuating estrogen levels that make your body’s temperature regulation system go a little haywire. When this happens, your brain triggers a series of responses that make you feel extremely hot, flushed, and sweaty. After all that sweating, you may feel chilly when the hot flash subsides – which can make you wonder if you’ve actually got a fever instead of just a hot flash.
But hot flashes are short-term events – lasting seconds or minutes – that come and go (though they may hit intermittently for years before they go away entirely). A fever, on the other hand, usually lasts for hours or days before it subsides. A hot flash shouldn’t cause your core body temperature to rise above normal, but a fever definitely will. If you’re wondering whether it’s a hot flash or a fever, use an oral thermometer to find out. (A contactless or scanning type could falsely show a spike in skin temperature, which could be misleading.)
Having endured hot flashes myself, I totally empathize with how miserable they can be. If you find them unbearable, talk to your doctor about medication or supplements to ease the transition to menopause. You also can treat hot flashes at home by:
- Wearing very cool, loose-fitting pajamas (since hot flashes often occur at night)
- Using a cooling pillow or mattress topper
- Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods
If you take your oral temperature and discover you have a fever instead of a hot flash, contact your doctor’s office. Fever can be an early sign of COVID-19, while hot flashes are not.