New research suggests that hot flashes may signal heart disease in younger women. As many as 70 percent of women experience hot flashes, and around a third of these women say that the hot flashes are frequent or severe.
Recent research suggests that hot flashes actually occur earlier than previously believed. It is now thought that they may begin to occur during the late reproductive years and not necessarily in the perimenopausal period.
Some studies have also shown that hot flashes can persist for over a decade.
The assessment of endothelial function is considered a key factor in predicting atherosclerosis – a form of CVD that affects the blood vessels’ ability to dilate and contract. If left untreated, atherosclerosis can lead to more serious cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.
The new study examined 272 women aged between 40 and 60 years who reported having hot flashes either daily or not at all. The women did not smoke and had no history of CVD.
The researchers monitored the women for physiologic signs of hot flashes in ambulatory care, as well as using diary monitoring. The participants had their blood tested, and their endothelial function was evaluated by performing an ultrasound measurement of the flow-mediated dilation of their brachial artery.
Flow-mediated dilation (FMD) is a process that helps the arteries to relax in response to shear stress, such as vasodilation.
The associations between hot flashes and FMD were calculated using linear regression models, and the researchers adjusted for factors such as demographics, CVD factors, estradiol (a female sex hormone released from the ovaries and adrenal glands), and lumen diameters (which relates to the size of the inside of a tubular organ, such as a blood vessel).
The authors found no association between hot flashes and vascular dysfunction in older women – that is, in participants aged between 54 and 60. However, they did find that hot flashes were associated with endothelial dysfunction in women aged between 40 and 53 years.
This suggests that younger women with hot flashes may have poor vascular function.