Menopause is a natural phenomenon that occurs in all women at some point in their lives. It can happen in your 40s or 50s, with the average age of onset being 51 in the United States. This biological process comes with its fair share of annoying physical and emotional side effects, the most common of which being hot flashes. According to a new study, hot flashes may not only interfere with a women’s quality of life but could also be a sign of increased heart disease risk.
Menopause occurs 12 months after the last menstrual period and marks the end of menstrual cycles. It often results in a slew of signs and symptoms that can last for months, or even years. The following are some examples:
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Loss of breast fullness
- Weight gain
- Slowed metabolism
- Thinning of the hair
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
Normally, menopause occurs due to the natural decline of reproductive hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone. Theses hormones previously regulated the menstrual cycle, but begin to decline during the menopausal age range. Other scenarios can induce menopausal-like symptoms, such as having a hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and primary ovarian insufficiency.
The study found that women experiencing frequent hot flashes during menopause may be susceptible to vascular dysfunction, which can lead to heart disease.
The researchers looked at 372 non-smoking women aged 40 to 60 years seeking to find any relationship between hot flashes and endothelial cell function—the cells lining blood vessels. What they saw was that hot flashes seemed to affect the dilation capacity of blood vessels, but only in the younger participants of the study. No association between hot flashes and vessel dilatation was documented in older women aged 54–60 years. This discovery was independent of other heart disease risk factors and indicates that early hot flashes may be an important heart disease risk in young menopausal women.
“Hot flashes are not just a nuisance. They have been linked to cardiovascular, bone, and brain health,” says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of NAMS. “In this study, physiologically measured hot flashes appear linked to cardiovascular changes occurring early during the menopause transition.”
This study provided valuable information on the effects hot flashes have on the body, as they are reported in nearly 70 percent of women. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, and vessel dilatation plays a major role in its development. Identifying another risk factor for heart disease will aid health care providers to better assess the risk of heart disease in their menopausal patients.