You’re in a meeting. All of a sudden, your skin is on fire. You’re sweating as if it’s 100 degrees. You feel the flushing start to rise and you quickly excuse yourself.
WHAT was that? Was that a…hot flash?
You’re probably reading this thinking that just described the experience of a woman going through menopause. And you wouldn’t be wrong. But what if this person is a man? Can men have hot flashes?
What Is a Hot Flash?
A hot flash is a sudden, intense feeling of heat, not caused by anything in the environment. Hot flashes are a direct result of internal processes that trigger a reaction in the body.
Symptoms of a hot flash can include:
- Sudden, intense feeling of warmth that spreads through your chest, neck, and face
- Increase in heart rate
- Sweating, sometimes profusely, especially on the upper body
- Chills as the intensity subsides
Women most often experience hot flashes as a result of the significant hormonal fluctuations related to the menopausal process. Men, on the other hand, don’t experience hormonal fluctuations in the same way women do.
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During midlife, men experience what’s known as “androgen decline in the aging male” or ADAM. It’s a gradual reduction in hormones and does not itself result in the types of hormone-related symptoms (like hot flashes) seen in women. In fact, testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, drops only about 1-2% per year after age 30 in healthy men. That slow decline is considered normal and generally not the source of their hot flashes.
So where are male hot flashes coming from?
Why Do Men Experience Hot Flashes?
What DOES happen during male midlife is a cluster of changes that when considered as a whole seem to predispose men to experience symptoms. Research has found that when men experience hot flashes, it is likely due to very specific circumstances or lifestyle issues. The most common of these issues are:
- Androgen Deprivation Therapy
- Psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, or stress
- Lifestyle factors such as obesity, sleep disturbances, alcohol use
Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT)
ADT is a common treatment for men with prostate cancer and the most often-cited source of hot flashes in men. About 80% of men who undergo ADT report experiencing hot flashes.
In the absence of ADT therapy, the cause of hot flashes seems to be related to psychological and lifestyle factors rather than hormones.
Psychological and Lifestyle Factors
Along with the normal midlife ADAM, men tend to experience a number of physical and emotional changes during midlife:
- Mood swings and irritability
- Decreased muscle mass
- Reduced ability to exercise as strenuously as they once did
- Fat redistribution, such as developing a large belly or breasts (gynecomastia)
- Cardiovascular issues such as high cholesterol, heart disease
- Lower energy
- Sleep disturbances
- Poor concentration and short-term memory
But are these the reasons behind those hot flashes? Not exactly.
It is around this time that men tend to experience what’s sometimes referred to as a “midlife crisis.” Essentially, they recognize they’ve come to midlife and are evaluating where they are personally and professionally. Midlife is a time of dealing with things like relationship issues, career changes or retirement, caring for aging parents, and other stressors. Taken together, these physical and psychological factors can create feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress.
It is well known that anxiety and stress in particular have been linked to a number of physical symptoms that strongly resemble hot flashes:
- Rapid heart rate
- Tingling sensations
It is very possible that men who feel the “hot flash” may be experiencing the physical symptoms of anxiety or high stress associated with this time of life. In fact, there is a specific type of anxiety known as Midlife Anxiety. This type of anxiety is not due to hormonal fluctuations but rather a result of dealing with the issues that surface during midlife.
Other possible factors that have been linked to these menopausal-like symptoms in men include:
- Poor sleep
- Poor diet
- Not exercising regularly
- Over-use of alcohol
So while there is a lot happening in a man’s life at midlife, significant hormonal fluctuations does not appear to be one of them. Rather, it appears that how male midlife is managed seems to have significant impact on how it is experienced.
What Can Be Done to Treat Male Hot Flashes?
The short answer is: a lot! Many of the factors associated with male midlife and those thought to contribute to the experience of hot flashes are manageable.
Manage Your Lifestyle
Focus on the “Big 3” – diet, exercise, and sleep. These factors are key to maintaining good health. Each of them is also positively correlated with stress/anxiety reduction and improved mood.
Manage Your Emotional Well-Being
Make time to take care of you and relax and recharge. Allocate time for friends and family. If you’re struggling with a problem, talk it out with a trusted friend. If you find that your problems are overwhelming or keeping you from enjoying life in the way you want to, reach out for professional help. Sometimes, talking to someone who can be objective can help you see things in a whole new way. A therapist can teach you skills to cope with your anxiety and depression. Reducing your levels of anxiety and depression may help to alleviate your experience of hot flashes.
Consult With Your Doctor
If you find that your symptoms are increasingly bothersome, even with your lifestyle changes, reach out to your healthcare provider or doctor. Even though you may not be dealing with hormonal issues, your symptoms are real. There are effective treatments for reducing your symptoms as well as for treating the anxiety and depression that may underlie those symptoms.
One of the hardest things to do is ask for help, but you’re not alone. While you’re unlikely to get a diagnosis of “male menopause,” you will find that your doctor understands what you mean and will be able to offer you options to reduce those bothersome symptoms. You don’t have to sweat it alone.