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What Are My Night Sweats And Hot Flashes Telling Me?

October 16, 2023

Do you find yourself suddenly flushed, sweating, and overheated at random times? If so, you’re likely experiencing hot flashes, also known as hot flushes or vasomotor symptoms (VMS). Hot flashes are an annoying but common symptom of perimenopause, affecting about 80% of women. 

While hot flashes may seem like just a nuisance, recent research shows they may indicate other health issues. This means you shouldn’t ignore frequent or severe hot flashes. Read on to learn what your hot flashes may be signalling and steps you can take for your health and wellbeing.

Bone Health Concerns

Hot flashes may signal that your bone health is at risk. The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) found that women with hot flashes had higher levels of N-telopeptide, a marker of bone breakdown. This could reflect lower bone density, increased rates of osteoporosis, and increase risk of fractures.

If you experience hot flashes, ask your doctor about getting a bone density test. Exercise, especially strength or weight training, can also help maintain bone density during perimenopause and beyond.

Heart Disease Risk

The frequency and duration of your flashes could reflect your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Some research has shown that women who had frequent, ongoing hot flashes in early perimenopause had a 50-80% increased risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. Frequent hot flashes are defined as experiencing symptoms 6 or more days in the previous 2 weeks. Hot flashes may last anywhere from 7-10 years. 

Recent research has demonstrated  that daytime hot flashes may be  associated with higher levels of C-reactive protein, a blood protein that reflects inflammation levels in the body, and is used to measure people’s risk for heart disease and stroke. 

While the link between hot flashes and heart disease is not fully understood, more data is emerging to suggest that severe hot flashes can signify cardiovascular risk. And since heart disease  is the leading cause of death for women, anything that can be done to modify and address risk makes sense. It is a good idea to track your hot flashes and tell your doctor about your experience with these symptoms, and to stay on top of blood pressure check ups, and regular screening for heart health and cholesterol levels. 

Weight Gain and Hot Flashes

Perimenopause and menopause brings changes in hormones and metabolism that can lead to weight gain, especially around the midsection. Research has shown that more severe hot flashes may be associated with greater increases in body fat and obesity. The good news is that data indicate that weight loss may also lead to less severe and less frequent hot flashes. 

Many women with a larger body size have found that their hot flashes are dismissed and they are told to “just lose weight.” Even if weight reduction may help, every woman should be properly assessed and offered effective treatment for hot flashes, including menopause hormone therapy, regardless of body size. 

Cognitive Decline

According to the US Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), 39% of menopausal women report issues with memory and verbal fluency. Frequent night sweats have been linked to changes in cognition and brain function. 

Night sweats may also be associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.  Recent research looked at a blood protein that is a marker of Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid 42/20, among women ages 45-67 who had night sweats. The results showed that night sweats were associated with higher levels of beta-amyloid 42/20, indicating that those who had night sweats may be at higher risk of later developing Alzheimer’s disease. Ongoing research will help shed more light on this relationship in the years ahead. 

The bottom line is that bothersome hot flashes could signal other health issues in the present or the future. It is important to report hot flashes or night sweats to your doctor and to stay up to date on health check ups and screening tests. 

To support your heart, bone, and brain health, maintain a healthy diet, get enough sleep, try to limit stress, exercise regularly, limit alcohol intake, don’t smoke, and stay connected, social and stimulated, through perimenopause and beyond.

Written By:

Dr. Ariel Dalfen

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