Hot flushes in younger menopausal women may signal increased risk of heart disease

What was the aim of the study?
The study, published in the North American Menopause Society’s journal, Menopause, examined the relationship between hot flashes (the term hot flashes is used in North America, rather than hot flushes) and the function of the layer of cells that line the inside of the blood vessels (the endothelium). The dysfunction of these cells is considered a key factor in the development of atherosclerosis, a condition where the arteries become narrowed and hardened. Atherosclerosis can lead to cardiovascular disease such as heart attack or stroke.

The study included 272 non-smoking women aged 40 to 60 years old who did not have a history of cardiovascular disease. The researchers monitored women for physiologic signs of hot flashes and women also reported hot flashes in a diary. Participants in the study underwent physical examinations, blood tests and an ultrasound investigation of their endothelial function. Other factors such as demographics, cardiovascular disease risks and estradiol (female sex hormone) were taken into account.

What were the results?
The researchers found no association between hot flashes and endothelial function in women aged between 54 and 60. However, hot flashes and more frequent hot flashes were association with endothelial dysfunction in younger midlife women, those aged between 40 and 53 years. These findings are consistent with previous studies that have shown an association between early-onset hot flashes and increased cardiovascular risk. 

What do the researchers say?
The researchers explain “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”.

What do the results mean for women?
While the study is relatively small it does suggest that if younger women (aged 40 to 53) experience hot flashes and/or frequent hot flashes they would benefit from monitoring their cardiovascular health more closely. Women can ensure they visit their GP regularly to have their cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar and weight checked. Being more aware of one’s cardiovascular risk can help women make lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight and participating in regular exercise.

Last updated: June 2017

©Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc. This article was written by Kirsten Braun and reviewed by the Women's Health Queensland Wide editorial committee. It was published in Health Journey 2017 Issue 2.

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