Hot Flashes May Signal Higher Risk of Heart DiseaseJul 07, 2021
Recent research links vasomotor symptoms with cardiovascular health.
By Selene Yeager
Hot flashes and night sweats are a hallmark of menopause. These “vasomotor symptoms” occur because the vasomotor center in the brain, which helps regulate blood pressure and blood vessel dilation and constriction can seemingly go a little haywire as sex hormones fluctuate and decline during the menopause transition.
Vasomotor symptoms are extremely common (affecting almost 80 percent of women), annoying, and, as research is indicating, may be a harbinger of heart disease, so if you have a lot of these personal heat waves, keeping tabs on your cardiovascular health—and being proactive about staying on top of it—is a good idea.
The most recent study connecting the dots between hot flashes and night sweats and heart disease was published this past January in the Journal of the American Heart Association. In it, researchers followed more than 3,000 women ages 42 to 52 for more than 22 years, charting their symptoms and their incidence of cardiovascular disease.
They found that frequent (having hot flashes or night sweats six or more days a week during a two-week period) or persistent vasomotor symptoms over the study period were associated with a 50 to 77 percent increased risk for future cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke.
A pooled analysis of studies including more than 23,000 women published last year in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that women who had severe hot flashes or night sweats had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, especially if they suffered from both. In that analysis, the frequency of hot flashes weren’t linked to a higher risk of heart disease, but women who said they had night sweats “sometimes” or “often” did have increased odds of heart trouble.
Yet another study published last year in the journal Menopause, which analyzed records from more than 20,000 women in the Women’s Health Initiative CaD study reported that the severity of vasomotor symptoms was not connected to higher cardiovascular disease risk, but that having two or more moderate to severe menopause symptoms (out of more than a dozen common symptoms studied, including vaginal dryness, migraines, waking at night, difficulty concentrating, as well as vasomotor symptoms) was associated with increased heart disease risk.
There’s a lot to unpack in this suitcase of studies. And nobody really knows for sure what’s underlying all these links. What the research does appear to indicate is that your symptoms and/or the severity of them may be a sign that you’re at an increased risk for heart disease. That doesn’t mean you’re destined for a heart attack. It means you should prioritize your heart health.
Really, at this point in life, you should be doing that anyway. As we wrote in a previous blog, a report published in the November 2020 issue of Circulation made a strong case for why the menopausal transition should be considered an independent risk factor for heart disease.
Now’s the time to get on top of the basics. See your doctor for a check up that includes blood pressure, blood screening, and other basic health assessments (including your menopausal status and symptoms) to evaluate your risk.* And take care of your ticker with a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle.
Whatever you do, remember don’t blow off the warning signs of heart trouble (revisit the blog referenced above for a refresh). Being active is good for your cardiovascular health, but it doesn’t make you immune from disease.
* Friendly reminder that InsideTracker is a supporter of Hit Play Not Pause, so if you’re interested in a deep dive on your blood work (especially as it pertains to an active woman), you can get 25% off at insidetracker.com/feistymenopause
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