Hot flashes, sudden sensations of heat accompanied by facial reddening, sweating and, sometimes, rapid heartbeat, nausea, headache and anxiety, most often occur in menopausal women, but can occur in women -- or men -- as young as age 31. Hot flash symptoms normally start at the head and move down toward the neck and chest, lasting between 30 seconds and five minutes. Hormonal changes that occur during menopause most often cause hot flashes, but medications and certain disease processes can also cause hot flashes. Hot flashes can occur in men, although they occur more commonly in women.
Medications that lower estrogen levels can cause hot flashes in both men and women at age 31. Estrogen blockers, such as tamoxifen, taken by both sexes to treat breast cancer and by girls for precocious puberty can cause hot flashes. Leuprolide acetate, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist taken by men to treat prostate cancer in men, endometriosis in women and precocious puberty in both sexes, can also cause hot flashes. Women undergoing fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization are sometimes given leuprolide acetate during their treatment. Medications, such as nitroglycerin, which relaxes blood vessels; nifedipine, used to treat enlarged prostate; and niacin, used to lower lipid levels, can all cause hot flashes. Medications that lower blood pressure, anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants can also induce hot flashes.
Premature Ovarian Failure
Menopause normally occurs around age 51. Menopause that starts before age 40 is considered premature ovarian failure, or POF. Hot flashes can start several years before the last menstrual period occurs. Premature ovarian failure has a number of possible causes, including a number of diseases. Thyroiditis, diabetes, Addison's disease, myasthenia gravis and pernicious anemia can all cause POF, pelvic radiation, chromosomal defects, such as Turner's syndrome, and enzyme deficiencies, such as galactosemia, can also cause POF.
Surgical removal of the ovaries in women and testes in men at or before age 31 leads to a sudden drop in estrogen levels and hot flashes. After ovary removal, women enter surgically induced menopause, since the ovaries produce estrogen. Around 75 percent of men who have orchiectomy -- surgery to remove the testes -- develop hot flashes.
Some diseases cause symptoms similar to hot flashes induced by low estrogen levels. These can occur at any age, including age 31. Tumors of the hypothalamus or pituitary gland, human immunodeficiency virus, tuberculosis, thyroid disease and alcoholism can all cause hot flashes. Certain spicy foods such as those high in capsaicin-rich peppers might cause symptoms of a hot flash, but these are only food-associated.