An Upside to Hot Flashes at Menopause

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: March 23, 2011

At last, there may be some benefit to those very irritating hot flashes. According to a recent study published in the journal Menopause, women who had hot flashes at the start of menopause, but not later, seemed to have a lower risk for heart attack and death than women who never had hot flashes, or those whose symptoms persisted long after menopause began. However, among the few women who developed hot flashes late — in some cases many years after menopause began — there were more heart attacks and deaths when compared with the other groups.

The study involved 60,000 post-menopausal women who were part of the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study and followed for almost ten years. The women studied were asked to recall their symptoms — like hot flashes and night sweats — in questionnaires about their health. The women were in their early 60s on average, about 14 years after the start of menopause.

More than one-third of the women surveyed remembered displaying early menopausal symptoms – hot flashes at the onset of menopause that ended before they enrolled in the study. Just 1,391 women showed late symptoms. Furthermore, about 2.5% of women with early symptoms had heart attacks, compared with 3.4% percent of women with no symptoms and 5.5% of women with late symptoms.

As we know, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, and the risk increases dramatically after menopause. The study found a woman’s risk of heart attack rises depending on when hot flashes begin in menopause. The research showed that women who had hot flashes or night sweats at the start of menopause were actually at a slightly lower risk for stroke, heart disease and death, compared with women who never had hot flashes or night sweats. The risk reductions were 17% for stroke, 11% for heart disease and 11% death.

Within the group studied, deadly heart attacks increased as well. About 6 % of the early symptom women who had heart attacks died, compared with 8% of the symptomless women and 11% of the late symptoms group.

One theory as to what may be happening is that women who experience “flushing” during menopause could have blood vessels that are responding appropriately to the change in hormone levels occurring at that time, helping them to ward off the hardening of the arteries and plaque-building associated with heart disease. However, further studies need to confirm whether that’s the case. On the flip side, Dr. Rita Redberg, cardiologist at the University of California-San Francisco, and spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, said it’s unlikely that hot flashes themselves are protective; her theory is that women are more likely to exercise or go to their doctors more regularly because of hot flashes, and those practices can decrease cardiovascular events.

The time during menopause is always an important opportunity for women to take a look at their personal health. Regardless of whether or not hot flashes increase the risk for heart disease is important, but women should remember that the things they choose to do during this transitional moment in their lives, like exercising, eating healthy and not smoking are much more influential than whether or not they have hot flashes.


Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 127/128