Early Menopause Hot Flashes May Decrease Risk for CVD Events

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Three out of four women experience hot flashes and night sweats during menopause. While these symptoms may be bothersome, says Dr. Emily Szmuilowicz, they may actually be protective against cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.

Previous studies have found menopause to be associated with increased levels of heart disease risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol. Aging is also associated with an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Szmuilowicz, an endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine, along with JoAnn Manson MD DrPH of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Ellen Seely MD from Harvard Medical School, reviewed medical information from 60,000 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. The women for followed for ten years to determine the relationship between menopause symptoms and cardiovascular events.

Read: Menopause Has Negative Effects on Women's Cholesterol

The women were grouped into four categories – those who experienced hot flashes at the onset of menopause, later in menopause, during both time periods or not at all.

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Women who experience hot flashes and night sweats at the start of menopause had a 17% lower risk of stroke, an 11% lower risk of heart disease and an 11% lower risk of death during the study. Women whose symptoms persisted throughout menopause also did not appear to be at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

Read: Certified Menopause Practitioners Promote Healthy Aging in Women

Unfortunately, though, women who had symptoms later in menopause were 32% more likely to have a heart attack and 29% more likely to die.

Szmuilowicz and team say more research needs to be done in order to understand the pathophysiological mechanisms behind the association, but say it is good news for the millions of women who experience these troublesome symptoms at the time of menopause.

"It is reassuring that these symptoms, which are experienced by so many women, do not seem to correlate with increased risk of cardiovascular disease," said Szmuilowicz. "Hot flashes will never be enjoyable, but perhaps these findings will make them more tolerable."

Journal Reference:
"Vasomotor symptoms and cardiovascular events in postmenopausal women."
Szmuilowicz, Emily D.; Manson, JoAnn E.; Seely, Ellen W. et al, Menopause, Published online ahead of print, 19 February 2011, DOI: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3182014849

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