Frequent and severe occurrence of menopausal symptoms — including hot flashes — may be linked to an increased risk in cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a new study published Wednesday in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society.
Hot flashes, a common identifier of menopause for women, have been linked in previous studies to arterial stiffening and vascular dysfunction, both of which are linked to an increased risk in heart disease.
In the new study, researchers found that more frequent hot flashes — those that occur daily — also lead to an increased risk in heart disease, as do those that are severe enough to stop activity. The study, which evaluated 138 menopausal women, also evaluated depression’s link to cardiovascular disease, as well as quality-of-life measures. In addition to frequent and severe hot flashes, a low quality of life also was found to be associated with a higher risk of CVD. However, no link was found with depressive symptoms.
Women typically experience menopause in their late 40s to early 50s. An overall increase in heart attacks is seen 10 years after menopause, possibly due to the lowered levels of estrogen, which is believed to have a positive effect on keeping arteries flexible to accommodate blood flow.
Women who experience difficult and frequent symptoms should be evaluated, recommends JoAnn Pinkerton, M.D., executive director of the North American Menopause Society. “Women at menopause and beyond need to ‘know their numbers’ — such as blood pressure, blood sugars and lipid levels — as these affect their risk of developing heart disease,” Pinkerton says. Those under 60, Pinkerton adds, should also talk with their primary care physician to see if they may be a candidate for hormone therapy, or other treatments that may decrease the risk of heart disease.
Pinkerton also recommends lifestyle changes for women at menopause and beyond, such as regular aerobic exercise, stress management, and a healthy diet and weight range to help decrease the risk of heart disease.