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Experiencing a Hot Flash or Night Sweats? It May Not Be Menopause, Study Says

Tim Boyer's picture
Experiencing hot flashes during menopause

Experiencing a hot flash—the momentary sensation of burning within that is often accompanied by a red flushing of the face and profuse sweating—is the most common symptom of early menopause. Although not life-threatening, for some women it can be physically and emotionally distressing due to disturbance of normal sleep patterns and the realization that their body has now passed another milestone in life.

However, before reaching for any number of home remedies to alleviate hot flashes through natural treatment staples such as soy products, black cohosh, evening primrose or flaxseed, researchers have recently discovered that in fact there is a good chance that the hot flash you experienced may not be menopausal at all.

In a survey of approximately 1,500 middle-age women conducted by Group Health researchers and scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, they determined that in spite of being of typical menopausal age and experiencing hot flashes, that over half of the women surveyed were still having normal monthly menses.

As it turns out, hot flashes continue to be a medical mystery for researchers. One of the most recent studies points to the possibility that hot flashes are due to a region of brain cells called hypothalamic kisspeptin/neurokinin B/dynorphin neurons (KNDy)―pronounced “candy” for short―that is responsive to low levels of estrogen. They posit that when estrogen levels are low, that the KNDy neurons release neurotransmitters that signal the body telling it that it is too hot and thereby causes the body to dilate its blood vessels resulting in flushing of the skin and sweating to cool the body.

However, as the Group Health/ Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center demonstrates, it is not so unusual for a woman to experience hot flashes and not be in menopause. Whether the surveyed women were experiencing momentary decreases in estrogen is unknown, but the study reports that of the women surveyed who were having hot flashes and not diagnosed with menopause, they were still cycling normally.

The study consisted of a wide range of races/ethnicities including Native Americans, whites, blacks, Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, Japanese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, East Indians, Chinese, and other Asians who ranged in age from 45 to 56 years. None of women surveyed were taking supplemental hormones.

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The results of the survey revealed that experiencing a hot flash or night sweat is more common than previously recorded at an overall combined incidence of 55 percent. Native American, black and white women had the highest incidence of hot flashes and night sweats (ranging from 58 to 67 percent) compared to Asian groups of women (ranging from 18 to 31 percent).

According to an attributed press release statement from The North American Menopause Society (NAMS):

“This study should help ease a worry for women who have been surprised by hot flashes and night sweats while they are still having regular cycles. It doesn't necessarily mean they are in menopause yet, and it's perfectly normal. ‘Some women even have a hot flash the first couple of nights after childbirth,’ said Dr. Margery Gass, NAMS Executive Director.”

The study will not be published in print until the February 2014 issue of Menopause, but an early published-ahead-of-print online copy will be released soon in the web issue of Menopause.

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket


Menopause—The Journal of the North American Menopause Society

The North American Menopause Society: press releases