Hot flashes can be challenging for women experiencing menopause, but a new study finds that this symptom can also be a sign of heart disease.
A study in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), reports that women who have frequent hot flashes between the ages of 40 to 53 are more prone to vascular problems that may lead to heart disease.
The study was conducted on 272 nonsmoking women aged 40 to 60 years.
Hot flashes that occur in younger women impact endothelial cell function, which involves the inner lining of blood vessels. Hot flashes in younger women impact the blood vessels’ ability to dilate, impairing blood flow.
Frequent hot flashes in younger women were linked to having a higher risk for heart disease, regardless of other risk factors or estrogen levels.
“Hot flashes are not just a nuisance. They have been linked to cardiovascular, bone, and brain health,” Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of NAMS, said in a press release.
More recent research shows that hot flashes may start earlier than previously thought — potentially during the late reproductive years.
Pinkerton told Healthline that previous studies have linked early hot flashes to heightened cardiovascular disease, but her research rigorously evaluated it.
Pinkerton said that early onset of hot flashes may be a good way to identify women who have a higher risk for heart disease and could improve their lifestyle — even if they already have healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels.
Reducing your risk
What can women do to reduce their risk for heart disease and improve blood vessel function?
Exercise, Pinkerton advises. Physical activity that raises the heart rate helps blood vessels dilate and remain healthy.
She also advises women to keep blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and weight in healthy ranges.
In addition, women should eat a heart-healthy diet, avoid smoking and excess alcohol, and get at least seven hours of sleep a night.
Dr. Martha Gulati, editor in chief of the American College of Cardiology’s CardioSmart website, noted that there are medications that can improve endothelial function, but they haven’t been proven to improve outcomes in the case of menopausal women with hot flashes.
Therefore, she can’t recommend that younger women with hot flashes take them. Instead, stick to a healthy lifestyle.
There are other cases when older women can benefit from medication such as statins if they had high cholesterol and were at risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD).
Additionally, if someone had high blood pressure and endothelial dysfunction, the choice of an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor (used to treat hypertension and congestive heart failure) may be beneficial, she said.
“I think for women with hot flashes they should make sure they know their own ASCVD risk and make sure all risk factors are controlled,” Gulati added. “They should discuss their perimenopausal symptoms and their risk for CVD [cardiovascular disease] with their doctor and take charge of their heart health.”
Inflammation and heart disease
Dr. Michael Miller, a cardiology professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and author of “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” told Healthline that hot flashes are linked to inflammation.
That is another condition that promotes heart disease.
Miller agrees that getting sleep, lowering stress, and eating well can be a huge help.
“Having a genetic predisposition may certainly raise the risk of hot flashes, but they can be at least partially offset with a Mediterranean diet,” he said.
Hot flashes are considered normal as women transition into menopause because they signal fluctuating estrogen levels and out-of-sync levels.
However, it’s actually not a normal state for a woman and it can affect heart health, Dr. Regina Druz, a cardiologist from New York, told Healthline.
Factors that increase inflammation and oxidative stress that are already unleashed by fluctuating hormone levels include insulin resistance; vitamin and mineral deficiencies; diets high in processed foods, sugar and alcohol; physical inactivity, stress, and sleep disruption.
Addressing these lifestyle issues, Druz said, can go “a long way to help women lead healthier lives.”