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September 24, 2019

Hot flashes tied to heart attacks, strokes and cognitive decline, studies find

Frequent night sweats linked to reduced attention and executive function

Hot flashes – the sudden feeling of warmth, often felt most intensely over the face, neck and chest – are a common symptom of menopause.

The frequency and intensity of hot flashes varies among women. Some women might get several per hour while others might only have a handful each week.

Women who have frequent hot flashes may have cause for concern, according to new research being presented at the North American Menopause Society's annual meeting.

New research links frequent and persistent hot flashes during menopause to a higher risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers used data from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation, a 20-year longitudinal study of menopause, to determine the association. The study tracks both hot flashes and cardiovascular events among women transitioning through menopause.

Women who had frequent hot flashes at the beginning of menopause were twice as likely to experience a cardiovascular event, researchers found. Additionally, persistent hot flashes throughout menopause increased the risk of a cardiovascular event by 80 percent.

"Having a hot flash is a much more significant event than providers actually appreciated for many years," researcher Rebecca Thurston, of the University of Pittsburgh, told CNN. "We're starting to link these hot flashes to various different health indices and outcomes, including women's cardiovascular health."

Additional research being presented at the NAMS conference found that women who experience night sweats – a common menopause symptom similar to hot flashes – have a higher risk of cognitive decline.

Women who had frequent night sweats ironically experienced greater sleep duration, researchers found. But those same women also became more vulnerable to decreased attention and executive function.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, examined the influence of menopause on the cognitive abilities of women with a history of breast cancer.

“Studies like this are valuable in helping healthcare providers develop effective treatment options for menopausal women complaining of cognitive decline as they focus on modifiable risk factors,” NAMS Medical Director Dr. Stephanie Faubion said in a statement.

A third study being presented found that childhood abuse may be linked to physiologically-detected hot flashes.

Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of menstruation. As women hit their 40s, menstrual periods can undergo various changes until their ovaries cease producing eggs, marking the end of menstruation. The average woman has her last period at age 51, according to The Mayo Clinic.


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