Hot flashes in women linked to high blood pressure

Women who get hot flashes have higher blood pressure than those who don't, according to a new study led by Weill Cornell Medical College.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease -- the latter being responsible for half of all deaths among American women 50 and older.

"One-third of the women we studied reported having had hot flashes within the past two weeks. Among these women, systolic blood pressure was significantly higher -- even after adjusting for whether they were pre-menopausal, menopausal or post-menopausal," says Dr. Linda Gerber, the study's senior author, professor of public health and medicine and director of the biostatistics and research methodology core at Weill Cornell Medical College. "Future research will help us better understand the mechanisms underlying this relationship and may help to identify potential interventions that would reduce the impact of hot flashes on blood pressure."

While previous research has linked menopause to high blood pressure, the new Weill Cornell study, published in the March/April issue of Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society, may be the first to link hot flashes to high blood pressure.

Portable monitors recorded the blood pressure of 154 New York City women, aged 18 to 65 (mean age of 46), with no previous cardiovascular disease and either mild hypertension or normal blood pressure. Fifty-one women reported experiencing hot flashes. These women were found to have an age-adjusted mean systolic awake blood pressure of 141 and a mean systolic sleep blood pressure of 129 -- compared to 132 and 119, respectively, for women not reporting hot flashes (P=0.004 and 0.007). The group differences for systolic blood pressure remained statistically significant after controlling for conventional hypertension risk factors, race/ethnicity, age and body mass index (BMI).

Hot flashes are typically experienced as a feeling of intense heat with sweating and rapid heartbeat, and usually last from two to 30 minutes on each occasion. The event may be repeated a few times each week or up to a dozen times a day. Hot flashes are thought to be caused by centrally increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system.

Co-authors include Dr. Joseph E. Schwartz of SUNY-Stony Brook (Stony Brook, NY) and Weill Cornell Medical College; Dr. Lynnette Leidy Sievert of the University of Massachusetts (Amherst); Katherine Warren, who was at Weill Cornell Medical College; and Dr. Thomas G. Pickering of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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