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Early Onset of Hot Flashes Associated with Blood Vessel Dysfunction, Could Predict Heart Disease

Pitt Expert Will Discuss Findings at News Briefing, Presentation at American College of Cardiology Annual Meeting

PITTSBURGH, March 9, 2015 – Women who experience hot flashes early in the course of menopause are more likely to have markers of blood vessel dysfunction, which could indicate a higher risk for the development of heart disease, according to research from the University of Pittsburgh. Findings will be discussed during a news briefing and presentation at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session and Expo, March 14 to 16, in San Diego.
Up to 70 percent of women experience hot flashes and night sweats during menopause, said Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, Pitt School of Medicine.
“We used to think these were just annoying symptoms that many women just tried to endure,” she said. “However, our research is now suggesting that for some women, hot flashes might indicate adverse changes in the blood vessels during midlife that might not be medically benign over time.”
At the meeting, Dr. Thurston will discuss preliminary findings from her research that indicate early onset of hot flashes is associated with dysfunction of the endothelium, which is the lining of blood vessels. Endothelial dysfunction was measured by assessing flow mediated dilation (FMD), a noninvasive ultrasound measure of how well the vessel dilates in response to pressure on the wall of the blood vessel.
In one study of 189 healthy women approaching or in menopause, the researchers found those who had hot flashes before age 52 were more likely to have lower FMD values, suggesting adverse endothelial changes. Similarly, in a second study of 104 postmenopausal women with signs of heart disease, those who reported first having their hot flashes at or before age 42 were more likely to have lower FMD values.
“More work needs to be done to confirm our findings and to understand the reasons why early hot flashes are associated with endothelial dysfunction,” Dr. Thurston said. “But these findings could give us a way to predict who might be at greater risk for heart disease so that we can target these women for early prevention.”

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