Menopausal hot flashes linked to increased heart disease risk

Experiencing hot flashes during menopause isn’t just uncomfortable, it could also be a sign of emerging vascular dysfunction and heart disease in women aged 40-53, new research shows.

The study, which is the first to examine the relationship between physiologically assessed hot flashes and endothelial cell function, was published recently in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

The study included more than 270 nonsmoking women between the ages of 40 and 60. Results showed the effect of hot flashes on the ability of blood vessels to dilate was seen only in women under 54 years old. There was no association in older women, those aged 54-60, suggesting when hot flashes occurred at a younger age, they were more associated with heart disease.

The findings could provide valuable information to providers treating menopausal patients and could encourage them perform more rigorous heart disease tests earlier. About 70 percent of menopausal women experience hot flashes, with about one-third of them reporting the flashes as being frequent or severe.

"Hot flashes are not just a nuisance. They have been linked to cardiovascular, bone, and brain health," said JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, executive director of NAMS, in a statement. "In this study, physiologically measured hot flashes appear linked to cardiovascular changes occurring early during the menopause transition."