More frequent hot flashes during menopause linked to heart disease, study shows

By Kathy Ritchie
Published: Friday, October 20, 2023 - 12:37pm
Updated: Friday, October 20, 2023 - 1:32pm

Women around the world go through menopause, and one of the most commonly reported symptoms are hot flashes and night sweats. 

Professor Lynnette Sievert, a biological anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology at U-MASS Amherst, studies hot flashes.

She started working in Mexico in 1999. It was there she discovered that despite our many differences, the experience of a hot flash is universal.

"We found that in Campeche, Mexico, when we used the word calor versus the word bochorno," said Sievert. "And in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, they'll use oliados de calor, meaning 'waves of heat.' They'll use sofocos, meaning 'a feeling of suffocation.'"

Research shows the menopause transition is also a time of cardiovascular risk for some women. 

Rebecca Thurston
Rebecca Thurston
Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D.

Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D., is the Pittsburgh Foundation Chair and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. She’s also the principal investigator of SWAN, the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. It’s a big study of roughly 3,000 women from across the United States that found a link between hot flashes and cardiovascular disease.

"Women with more frequent hot flashes in their 40s and early 50s had more persistent hot flashes over the course of the next 20 years; those women have an 80% increased risk of cardiovascular disease events such as heart attacks and strokes. We showed that in the SWAN study," Thurston said.

These women had not been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, so they had no preexisting conditions.

Thurston also looked at the effects of trauma on certain menopausal symptoms and found that women who suffered abuse in childhood had more hot flashes and were at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes.

"We see that women with more trauma exposure in adulthood — particularly sexual trauma, like sexual assault [and] sexual harassment — we see linked to hypertension risk," said Thurston.

Hear more about hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause on KJZZ's Period, The End podcast. Find it wherever you get your podcasts.

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