A new study has revealed information on the link between hot flashes and heart health.
This is the first major study on hot flashes and heart disease. For years, researchers have observed estrogen and heart health. Estrogen is thought to help keep blood vessel walls healthy. And after menopause, women’s risk of heart disease and heart attack increases. But new research tells us that estrogen may not be the only factor concerning menopause and heart health.
This new study published in the journal Menopause reveals that frequent hot flashes can affect your blood vessels and arteries.
What are hot flashes?
Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause and perimenopause (a period of several years before menopause). It is a sudden feeling of heat, sometimes accompanied by flushing and sweating. These can lead to “night sweats” when you sleep.
The study reports that up to 70% of women experience hot flashes. And about one third of those women describe their hot flashes as frequent or severe.
They most likely occur because of changes in circulation (though researchers are unsure what causes those changes). Blood vessels near the skin’s surface widen to cool off, which is what causes sweating. Some women also have a rapid heart rate or chills.
We are used to thinking about hot flashes as something that happens to women going through menopause or in the close years before. But studies show that some women experience them much younger.
Hot flashes are so linked to circulation, it isn’t surprising that the recent study shows that hot flashes can contribute to poor cardiovascular health.
Hot Flashes and Heart Health
272 women with no history of CVD participated in the study, between the ages of 40 and 60. Women recorded their hot flashes and had their hot flashes monitored. Researchers also collected data on blood vessel health through a blood test and ultrasound measurements of the brachial artery.
Researchers accounted for other factors such as demographics, other CVD factors, and estradiol (a type of estrogen) and the diameter of their blood vessels.
During the study, researchers looked for any associations between hot flashes and arteries’ ability to relax and open (or dilate). By the end, they found that frequent hot flashes inhibited the blood vessels’ ability to dilate.
This can lead to other conditions such as high blood pressure, damaged blood vessels, and increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
The researchers think that this information adds to the conversation on women’s heart health. It isn’t just estrogen and other CVD factors that is causing poor heart health. Hot flashes have a role to play, too.
What can women do?
This study might make it seem like you’re on a path to cardiovascular disease, and there is nothing you can do. But that isn’t necessarily true. There is a lot you can do to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce hot flashes.
Know Your Risk of CVD
First you need to know your risk of CVD. Hot flashes are only one factor that can lead to cardiovascular disease and other heart problems. Others include
- Family history of CVD
- Advanced age
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Unhealthy diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol
- Tobacco use
Learn more about risk factors at https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/risk_factors.htm
Reduce CVD Factors
If you are at risk for CVD, do what you can to reduce that risk. Predictably, it follows the pattern of the list above. Here is what you can do to lower your risk of CVD, no matter if you are male or female, or get hot flashes or not.
- Learn your family history
- Manage your blood pressure
- Eat a heart-healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Reduce salt, caffeine, and alcohol
- Quit smoking or tobacco use
- Get regular physical activity
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage your cholesterol
Prevent and Reduce Hot Flashes
To be clear, you should not expect to be able to avoid hot flashes completely (unless you are among the smaller percent of women that does not experience them). But you can avoid triggers to make them less frequent. Common triggers can include
- Cigarette smoke
- Spicy food
- Tight clothing
Other things you can do to reduce hot flashes:
- Keep cool, especially at night
- Exercise regularly
- Practice deep breathing (15 minutes in the morning and evening)
- Eat plant estrogens found in soy products such as tofu or edamame
- Supplement with black cohosh, an herb that has been known to help with hot flashes for up to 6 months
- Take B complex vitamins, vitamin E, and ibuprofen, which have also been known to help
- Other botanicals or herbs claim to help with hot flashes, but always talk to your doctor before using them
Ask Your Doctor about Medication
For some women, medication can help. If hot flashes cause discomfort, you can talk with your doctor about possible treatment.
One type of treatment is called hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This is when your doctor administers a low dose of a hormone such as estrogen to help replenish the hormones you are losing. Usually when you stop receiving HRT, hot flashes return.
Other medications include:
- Low-dose depression drugs like paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), fluoxetine (Prozac, Rapiflus,), or venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Brisdelle, a paroxetine formula designed for hot flashes
- Gabapentin, an anti-seizure drug
- Clonidine, a blood pressure medication
- Dauvee, a formula of conjugated estrogens and bazedoxifine made to treat hot flashes
You may still get hot flashes, but by putting into practice these lifestyle behaviors you can keep your blood vessels and heart healthy.
The Bottom Line
Hot flashes are a condition that most women experience, and this recent study has shown it affects your blood vessels. The more frequently you get hot flashes, the greater your risk of CVD. But there are still things you can do to reduce hot flashes and lower your risk of CVD. Don’t forget you always talk with your doctor about hot flashes and your heart health.