What causes hot flashes?

Hot flashes arise from changes in the body’s levels of estrogen and testosterone. Changes in hormone levels can result from normal processes of the body, such as menopause. Changes in hormone levels can also occur as a result of cancer or its treatments, specifically ovarian, testicular, prostate, and breast cancer.

Cancer-related causes of hot flashes

Hot flashes may arise from ovarian, testicular, prostate, or breast cancer and their treatment including:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries)
  • Orchiectomy (surgical removal of the testes)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Side effects of medications, such as certain steroids or antidepressants

Age-related causes of hot flashes

Hot flashes can also be caused by normal aging processes including:

  • Changes in function of the hypothalamus
  • Changes in thyroid hormone levels
  • Menopause

Serious or life-threatening causes of hot flashes

In some cases, hot flashes may be a symptom of a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Cancer of the ovaries or testes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Pituitary adenoma

Complementary treatments

Some complementary treatments may help some people to better deal with the symptoms of hot flashes. These treatments, sometimes referred to as alternative therapies, are used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Complementary treatments are not meant to substitute for traditional medical care. Be sure to notify your doctor if you are consuming nutritional supplements or homeopathic (nonprescription) remedies as they may interact with the prescribed medical therapy.

  • Complementary treatments may include:
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Nutritional dietary supplements, herbal remedies, tea beverages, and similar products
  • Yoga

    Questions for diagnosing the cause of hot flashes

    To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your hot flashes including:

    • Are you aware of any family or personal history of hormone imbalance?
    • Are you currently being treated for any type of cancer?
    • Are you in menopause?
    • Do you have any other symptoms of menopause?
    • Are your hot flashes bothersome?
    • Do your hot flashes interrupt your sleep?
    • How long have you been experiencing hot flashes?
    • What medications are you taking?

    What are the potential complications of hot flashes?

    While hot flashes themselves do not generally lead to any serious complications, they may interrupt sleep, cause embarrassment, or interfere with daily life. Hot flashes can also cause significant discomfort. Because hot flashes may sometimes be due to serious diseases, such as cancer of the ovaries or testes, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

    • Anxiety and depression
    • Distress and discomfort
    • Embarrassment
    • Insomnia
    • Social isolation
    • Spread of cancer


    1. Menopause. National Institute on Aging. http://www.nia.nih.gov/healthinformation/publications/menopause.htm.
    2. Hot flashes  and night sweats (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/sweatsandhotflashes/Patient/page1/AllPages/Pri...
    3. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.

    What are hot flashes?

    Hot flashes are short, sudden feelings of heat that can occur across the entire body or in parts of the body. Hot flashes may feel like waves of warmth traveling across the body. Hot flashes are generally accompanied by flushing and sweating. They can be mild or intense, can occur at any time of the day, and may be followed by chills.

    Hot flashes generally arise from perimenopause... Read more about hot flashesintroduction


    What other symptoms might occur with hot flashes?

    Hot flashes may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the endocrine system may also involve other body systems.

    Menopausal symptoms that may occur along with hot flashes

    Hot flashes may accompany other symptoms affecting the endocrine system, such as the menopausal transition in w... Read more about hot flashessymptoms

    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.