The sudden heat wave can be so intense for some people that their faces burn and they start to perspire profusely. Welcome to the hot flashes and other signs of impending menopause, which, according to doctors, will affect around 75% of women who live long enough.
Even though menopause may be years or even decades away, it is important to pay attention since, as new research is indicating, the menopause experience may be detrimental to long-term health.
Unpublished research presented on Wednesday at The Menopause Society's annual meeting in Philadelphia revealed that severe hot flashes are linked to elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a sign of a future heart condition, and a blood biomarker that could indicate a later Alzheimer's diagnosis.
According to Dr. Thomas, director of the Jacksonville, Florida, Mayo Clinic Women's Health Specialty Clinic and medical director for The Menopause Society, this is the first instance in which research has demonstrated a connection between hot flashes and blood biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease.
According to Thomas, who was not involved in the studies, "this is another piece of evidence telling us that hot flashes and night sweats may not be as benign as we have thought them to be in the past."
Risk of Alzheimer's:
For three nights, over 250 menopausal-symptomatic women between the ages of 45 and 67 donned a gadget to scientifically gauge the calibre of their slumber. On one of those nights, the women also had sweat monitors installed so they could document their hot flashes. The study participants' blood was subsequently drawn, and researchers tested it for beta-amyloid 42/40, a specific protein biomarker of Alzheimer's disease.
According to main study author Dr. Rebecca Thurston, "Beta-amyloid 42/40 is considered a marker of amyloid plaques in the brain, which is one of the components of the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease dementia."
"We found night sweats were associated with adverse beta-amyloid 42/40 profiles, indicating that hot flashes experienced during sleep may be a marker of women at risk of Alzheimer's dementia," said Thurston, a professor of psychiatry, epidemiology, and psychology and the director of the Women's Biobehavioral Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh's Pitt Public Health.
According to Thurston, the biomarker only predicts a person's future risk of contracting the disease; it does not determine whether a person now has clinical Alzheimer's disease.
In other words, nighttime hot flashes aren't contributing to this risk. They merely serve as a sign of those who are more vulnerable, according to Thomas. Also unknown is if treating night sweats would reduce the risk. We are unaware of that.
The study also examined two biomarkers for tau protein, the other distinguishing feature of Alzheimer's disease, but it did not discover any associations, according to Thurston. Although they have been validated so far, these biomarkers are still undergoing rapid development, and there is still more to learn about them.
Researchers were able to rule out the involvement of inadequate sleep, a recognised dementia risk factor, in the findings thanks to the objective sleep measures. Hot flashes and night sweats have been linked to impaired memory function as well as changes in the structure, function, and connection of the brain, according to earlier study that also took sleep into account.
Inflammatory indicators for heart disease were the focus of another study Thurston's team presented at the meeting. Thurston's earlier research discovered that early menopausal women who reported having regular or ongoing hot flashes had a 50% to 80% higher risk of cardiovascular events such heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.
Less frequent or severe hot flashes might persist even longer, according to specialists, and regular mild to severe hot flashes can often endure seven to ten years on average.
In this new study, 276 women who participated in the MS Heart trial had sweat monitors installed to more accurately quantify the frequency and severity of hot flashes both during the day and at night.
"A lot of people actually underreport their hot flashes, saying they're not having many when they really are," Thomas observed. "This monitor is an objective way to quantify them," the author writes.
The frequency and intensity of hot flashes were compared to blood levels of C-reactive protein, a protein that shows the body's level of inflammation and is used to estimate a person's risk of developing heart disease and stroke in the absence of existing heart disease.
Even after controlling for other possible factors such age, body mass index (BMI), education, ethnicity, race, and the hormone estradiol, the findings revealed that hot flashes throughout the day were linked to higher levels of C-reactive protein.
"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," said Mary Carson, the study's lead author and a clinical and bio-health doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh.
How you can help:
According to Thomas, doctors should start enquiring about patients' experiences with hot flashes as a risk factor for future illness because heart disease is the biggest cause of death for women worldwide.
Women who might experience night sweats in particular may need to evaluate their overall cardiovascular risk, she added.
"As for what to do, the advice will be the same as for heart and brain health: better sleep, a healthy diet, regular exercise, managing stress, maintaining social connections, and engaging in brain-stimulating activities."
Hot flashes are a common symptom experienced by many individuals, particularly menopausal women, but they can also occur due to other medical conditions or lifestyle factors. Here are some key points and conclusions related to hot flashes:
Menopause: Hot flashes are most commonly associated with menopause. During menopause, a woman's hormonal levels, especially estrogen, fluctuate and eventually decrease. These hormonal changes can lead to hot flashes.
Symptoms: Hot flashes typically involve a sudden sensation of intense heat, often accompanied by sweating, flushing of the skin, and a rapid heartbeat. They can be uncomfortable and disruptive to daily life.
Duration: Hot flashes vary in duration and frequency. Some individuals may experience them for just a few months, while others may have them for several years.
Triggers: Certain factors can trigger hot flashes, such as spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, stress, and hot environments. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can help manage symptoms.
Management: There are several strategies for managing hot flashes, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT), lifestyle changes (e.g., maintaining a healthy weight, staying cool, and managing stress), and alternative therapies (e.g., acupuncture, herbal remedies). It's essential to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment approach based on individual needs and health history.
Risks and Benefits of HRT: Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can effectively alleviate hot flashes, but it comes with potential risks, such as an increased risk of breast cancer, blood clots, and heart disease. The decision to use HRT should be made carefully, considering both its benefits and risks.
Non-Hormonal Options: Some non-hormonal medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), have been shown to be effective in managing hot flashes, especially in cases where HRT is not an option.
Individual Variability: Hot flashes can vary widely in their severity and impact from person to person. What works best for managing them can also differ from one individual to another.
In conclusion, hot flashes are a common symptom experienced during menopause, but they can also occur due to other factors. Managing hot flashes often involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and, in some cases, hormone therapy. It's crucial for individuals experiencing hot flashes to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan based on their specific needs and circumstances.
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