More than 70% of women experience hot flashes around the time of menopause. Not only are hot flashes bothersome (to say the least)—but research has also connected them with increased cardiovascular disease risk in certain women. In a recent ultrasound study, we found that “super flashers”—women who report at least five or six flashes daily—had significantly thicker carotid artery walls than other women. Other research has shown that the thicker the arterial walls, the greater the risk for heart disease and stroke. Having hot flashes infrequently (an average of four or fewer daily) does not seem to be linked to greater carotid thickness.
“Early-onset flashers”—women who have hot flashes at a relatively early age—also may be at higher risk. In another ultrasound study, we measured how well patients’ blood vessels dilated after a cuff was released. Women who first experienced hot flashes at age 42 or younger had significantly worse responses than those whose flashes began later in life. Poor blood vessel responses are associated with the development of cardiovascular disease.
Self-defense: Consult your physician about whether you are up-to-date on cholesterol testing and other cardiovascular screenings. If you smoke, stop. Eat a healthful diet. Exercise regularly. If overweight, commit to a weight-loss plan.