Feeling anxious? It may be those hot flashes!

Posted by on Sep 13, 2010 in anxiety, hot flash | 15 comments

Researchers say that there may be a link between hot flashes and certain types of anxiety. In fact, hot flash symptoms — increased heart rate and feeling flushed — have been shown to mimic feelings associated with somatic anxiety, i.e. butterflies in the stomach and tension (as opposed to affective anxiety, which people feel panicked or afraid or nervous).

Importantly, data have shown that as much as 8 months before premenopausal women start experiencing or reporting hot flashes, their scores on an anxiety index are off the charts, which means that constant butterflies or tension may be predictive of the move into menopause. The reason this is important is that they may be steps you can take now to address symptoms as they start to emerge, yoga and deep breathing for example, which not surprisingly, are often recommended to address anxiety symptoms.

The latest bit of information to hit research circles involves a study of 80, healthy, well-functioning menopausal women who were asked to keep a daily diary on hot flashes or night sweats (defined as a feeling of warmth or heat accompanied by sweating, pressure or rapid heartbeat occurring while awake or during sleep). In the diary, participants were asked to record how often hot flashes occurred over a one-week period as well as their severity. They were also asked to rate any symptoms of anxiety based on how often they occurred.

The results?

Higher scores of anxiety related to tension and butterfly-like feelings but not to panic or nervousness were significantly associated with more severe and frequent hot flashes or night sweats, even when factors such as sleep quality, age and education levels, all which might affect anxiety levels, were factored in. Age in particular is important because hot flashes tend to wean through the menopause as women grown older.

The reason this preliminary research is important is that it is possible that anxiety that women experience during menopause is actually related to hot flashes, rather than a specific mood disorder. By shifting the viewpoint to the true culprit, healthcare practitioners and women alike, might be able to better diagnose and more appropriately address anxiety symptoms, rather than leaning towards prescription mood treatments that are uncalled for.

At the same time, more research is needed. This was a small group of healthy, white women who were asked to self-report hot flashes/night sweats and anxiety symptoms. Although most of the research on hot flashes does rely on self-report, objectivity can be lost. What’s more, because these women were psychologically healthy, it’s hard to apply any conclusions to older women who might be seeking assistance specifically for anxiety.

So, are you feeling anxious? Depending on your age and menopausal status, it might be a harbinger of the flash or due to the flash. Either way, it’s worth considering.


  1. 9-14-2010

    Thanks for reporting on this study. My understanding of it is: the anxiety associated with menopause seems to derive from somatic (physical) sensations that are typically interpreted (by the psyche) as feeling anxious. These sensations seem to be associated with the hot flash experience. Also these feelings of being anxious do not reflect an affective anxiety disorder.
    PS I bookmarked your article at Digg, Stumble, Google Bkmrks

    • 9-17-2010

      This is exactly what researchers are examining and you’ve hit the proposed pathophysiology on the head. I try to avoid getting too scientific on this blog but I think that your description adds a valuable element to the story. Thank you!

  2. 9-17-2010

    I’m all for doing things naturally and if a woman can avoid taking a prescription for something especially during menopause than all the better. I always enjoy when men comment on the symptoms of menopause as if they truly understand what it feels like. After you have your first hot flash come back and tell me about the physical sensations your psyche is experiencing. Seriously?

    • 10-26-2010

      Good point!! In my role I have to speak at many meetings also I teach adults, its ever so off putting when you get a full on hot sweat, I have taken to telling people when this happens and giving myself some space. Why not?? If we talked about it more there wouldn’t be as much taboo.

  3. 10-26-2010

    I experience hot flushes, but I often know before hand when I will have one. I experience a feeling of anxiety and hopelessness just before, its quite horrid really, however, I have not medicalised my menopause, its part of me and I have altered my diet to suit.
    I have always been into fitness, so I continued with this, I am 51 and still go out running at 6am, it helps me so much!!! However, when I have a hot flush whilst out running i never get the anxious feeling, only a disorientated feeling, I sometimes lose my pace etc, my hubby runs with me and knows with my leg stride when I am having a hot flush.

    Its all really interesting!! Its my menopause and my time of life now, its mine all mine !!!!

    I hope this helps others x

    • 10-26-2010

      Brigid-Mary. I love that strategies such as fitness have helped. And that you are aware of your body and your symptoms. As you say, it’s all yours’. Thank you so much for sharing this. The more we talk about it, the more we can help one another.

  4. 7-22-2011

    ive been experiencing these for a couple of years now and put it down to anxiety attacks,i am nearly 41 yrs of age, my periods are regular, but tend to be extremely heavy, i am also known to be aneamic from time to time, can these be anxiety attacks or just approaching the menopause,please help im starting to feel depressed.

    • 12-30-2011

      I have suffered with many episodes of anxiety, and can pretty well establish they are relative to the hormonal changes going on in my body. I had postpartum depression after having my second child, have had intermittent PMS through the years, and now, at 50, am perimenopausal. It was during these times of “hormonal upheaval” that I experienced anxiety… other times in my life, I was my normal self. It took awhile for me to connect the dots because, like most women, I blamed the anxiousness on stress or other small things in my life. But when I started having hot flashes, sleep disturbances, night sweats, depressed feelings, etc., I realized the connection. My perimenopausal symptoms began in my mid 30s off and on, then simmered down in my 40s, then in the past three years or so, surfaced again as I head toward menopause. I urge all women to please look for a connection between their anxiety and what may be going on hormonally in their bodies. There is definately a connection. It’s not “in our heads.”

  5. 7-22-2011

    does no-one comment on here anymore?????

    • 7-25-2011

      Lisa – comments always slow during the summer months.

  6. 12-5-2012

    I believe I experienced my first real hot flash this morning. I’m 49 yrs. old & a year ago, I experienced what I thought was a hot flash in Jan. & then again in Feb, and then nothing after that, but compared with what happened to me this morning, those two happenings were just a little warm up. This morning I was suddenly sweating like crazy! The water was pouring down my body! I had to strip down. I thought I was going to throw up, but didn’t. My face was white as a sheet. I thought hot flashes make your face red, but mine wasn’t red at all. It lasted about ten minutes & then I felt spacey and disoriented. Was this a hot flash? 

    • 12-5-2012

      @hotflash It certainly sounds like it! Click on hot flash on the Tag Cloud and let’s see if you can solve the problem pronto!

      • 12-5-2012

        @Liz This is my first time on this site. What’s a Tag Cloud?  😛

        • 12-6-2012

          @hotflash Go to the right side and scroll down to the section that says ‘tags.’ when you see it, you can click on a word and it will take you to related posts!

        • 12-6-2012

          @Liz Thank you for confirming the hot flash…. the more I think about it, the more I realize that it really was a hot flash. I read the info you referred to with interest. Good to know about the deep breathing for next time it happens. I’ll probably be able to handle future hot flashes better, knowing what they are now & knowing that it will pass & I’ll be fine. Thank you so much, Liz. My husband thanks you too. When it was over & I was feeling dazed and disoriented, I meant to ask him; “Can you rub my shoulders please?” but instead, I said; “Show-shoo? uh….. I mean…. ” It was so weird!! LOL! Thanks again Liz! ~Donna


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