Hot Flashes May Be A Sign Of Increased Systemic Inflammation

Health Matters

Hot flashes, a well-known symptom often experienced during the menopause transition, have been associated with various adverse health effects. Notably, recent emerging data has shed light on a potential link between hot flashes and cardiovascular disease, marking a significant development in our understanding of women’s health. A groundbreaking study, set to be unveiled at the 2023 Annual Meeting of The Menopause Society in Philadelphia from September 27 to 30, has made a pioneering connection between physiologically assessed hot flashes and heightened systemic inflammation, a well-established risk factor for heart disease.

Vasomotor symptoms, more commonly referred to as hot flashes, affect approximately 70% of women in midlife and are recognized as one of the most prevalent manifestations of the menopausal experience. Not only do these episodes disrupt a woman’s quality of life, but they have also been linked to a range of physical health risks, including the development of cardiovascular disease.

Prior research efforts aimed at linking hot flashes to heightened systemic inflammation primarily relied on self-reporting methods to document the frequency and severity of these episodes. However, self-reports of hot flashes have inherent limitations, as they require women to recall their experiences over weeks or even longer periods, making them susceptible to memory or reporting biases. In contrast, the novel study in question, which drew upon a sample of 276 participants from the MsHeart study, utilized sternal skin conductance to physiologically assess hot flashes. The research sought to determine whether more frequent physiologically assessed hot flashes are associated with increased systemic inflammation.

While substantial increases in inflammatory markers typically indicate acute infection or the presence of clinical disease, it’s worth noting that small, sustained elevations of inflammatory biomarkers within the physiologically normal range have predictive value for future disease risk. For instance, even minor and persistent increases in these markers, which can be conceptualized as heightened levels of systemic inflammation, have previously been linked to the development of arterial plaque and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Based on the findings of this study, the researchers have reached a significant conclusion. Physiologically assessed hot flashes experienced during wakefulness were positively correlated with higher levels of a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, a crucial marker of inflammation, even after controlling for potential confounding factors such as age, education, race/ethnicity, body mass index, and estradiol levels.

These pivotal results will be presented during The Menopause Society’s Annual Meeting as part of a broader presentation titled “Physiologically measured vasomotor symptoms and systemic inflammation among midlife women.” This breakthrough study not only adds to our knowledge of the relationship between hot flashes and cardiovascular health but also underscores the importance of considering physiological measurements in understanding menopausal symptoms and their implications for overall well-being.

“This is the first study to examine physiologically measured hot flashes in relation to inflammation and adds evidence to a growing body of literature suggesting that hot flashes may signify underlying vascular risk and indicate women who warrant focused cardiovascular disease prevention efforts.” Said Mary Carson, MS, the lead author. She’s also from Department of Psychology in the University of Pittsburgh

“Since heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the US, studies like these are especially valuable,” Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director of The Menopause Society, added. “Healthcare professionals need to ask their patients about their hot flash experiences as they not only interfere with their quality of life but may also indicate other risk factors.”

Mary Carson and Dr. Faubion are open for interviews both before and after their presentation at the Annual Meeting.