Most women experience hot flashes, a flushing symptom caused by reduced levels of estradiol. This is a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause and does not raise alarm. However, a recent study has determined it is linked to vascular health. The findings suggest that hot flashes specify an increased risk of heart disease.
An estimated 70 percent of women have reported experiencing hot flashes. A third of these women have rated their hot flashes as severe and frequent.
It was once believed that the onset of hot flashes began in the perimenopausal period, but recent research suggests they may begin during the late reproductive years. Several published studies have shown that hot flashes can last for more than a decade.
In the new study conducted by the North American Menopause Society examines the connection between hot flashes and the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or the link between hot flashes and endothelial function. The endothelium is a thin membrane of epithelial cells that lines lymphatic vessels, blood vessels and cavities of the heart.
The assessment of endothelial function testing is the key element for the early detection of arteriosclerosis, a cardiovascular disease in which artery wall thickens as a result of plaque. Arteriosclerosis is the leading cause of stroke, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease and heart attacks.
In the United States, 1 in 4 deaths each year are related to heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An estimated 610,000 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each year – the leading cause of death in both women and men in the United States.
Examining The Link Between Hot Flashes And The Risk Of CVD
A total of 272 women between the ages of 40 and 60 volunteered for the study. The participants were nonsmokers, had no history of cardiovascular disease and reported experiencing hot flashes either daily or not at all.
The researchers did not find a connection between hot flashes and vascular dysfunction in participants between the ages of 54 and 60. However, a link was discovered between endothelial dysfunction in participants between the ages of 40 and 53. The connections were not contingent on other cardiovascular disease risk factors.
The authors noted, “Among younger midlife women, frequent hot flashes were associated with poorer endothelial function and may provide information about women’s vascular status beyond cardiovascular disease risk factors and estradiol.”
The findings suggest that women between the ages of 40 and 53 may have poor vascular function.
“Hot flashes are not just a nuisance, they have been linked to cardiovascular, bone and brain health”, said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive direction of the North American Menopause Society. “In this study, physiologically measured hot flashes appear linked to cardiovascular changes occurring early during the menopause transition.”
The study was published in the journal Menopause on April 10, 2017.