Hot flashes may be signal of healthy heart

February 24, 2011 2:58:59 PM PST
For many women, hot flashes are the unfortunate side effect of menopause. Many are resigned to live with the intense surge of heat that often leaves them soaked with perspiration.

Now, researchers at Northwestern Medicine say they've discovered what could be the up side to this nuisance-- hot flashes could be a good sign of heart health.

Linda Dunbar knows it's all a part of the proverbial "change of life." She is starting to experience hot flashes, and while she doesn't enjoy them, she's willing to deal with them.

"It's uncomfortable," Dunbar said. "I mean, you do get the first few, you are surprised, but you do kind of get used to it."

Dealing with the nuisance is one thing, but past research suggested these surges of heat may also signal an increased risk of cardiovascular disease .

A new study suggests the opposite is true.

"We found that women who experienced menopausal symptoms at the onset of menopause had no increase in risk of cardiovascular vascular disease and, in fact, in our study these women actually had lower risk of cardiovascular disease stroke and death," said Northwestern endocrinologist Emily Szmuilowicz.

Szmuilowicz is the lead author of the report, which is in the online edition of the journal Menopause. It involved more than 60,000 women over 10 years. She says this research is important because it looked at the relationship between the symptoms and the actual outcomes.

Doctors aren't sure why there might be a connection, but there are some theories.

"One possibility is that women who experience these changes in vascular function in response to the hormonal fluctuations at menopause," said Szmuilowicz. "These women may have blood vessels that respond in a healthy way to other stresses."

Hot flashes may not be enjoyable, but the hope is these findings may make them a bit more tolerable.

Dunbar likes knowing there is a possible upside.

"You just want to know that it's not in vain," said Dunbar. "I was excited to hear that."

Researchers emphasize there is no cause for concern among women who don't get hot flashes. They say this finding should not be read as a sign they are at increased risk for heart trouble.