Most women will get hot flashes or night sweats at some point in life. However, when these symptoms occur and how long they last can vary dramatically among women. Women fit into four distinct groups when it comes to getting hot flashes and night sweats, with potential ramifications for therapy and prevention of future health conditions, according to research led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
The epidemiological investigation followed hundreds of women for an average of 15 years and identified characteristics that predisposed them to certain trajectories for getting hot flashes and night sweats — collectively known as “vasomotor symptoms.” The findings are published in Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society and were funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“Most women get vasomotor symptoms, and we used to think these symptoms lasted from three to five years, right around the time of the final menstrual period,” said senior author Dr. Rebecca Thurston, a professor in Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry and an epidemiologist at Pitt Public Health. “We now know that these symptoms persist for far longer — typically seven to 10 years — and occur at different times for different women. This is strong evidence that we need to further investigate the underlying physiological causes of vasomotor symptoms and their link to potentially preventable health conditions.”
Hot flashes and night sweats involve a sudden flush of feverish heat and are linked to menopause, the time when a woman’s menstrual period stops.
Dr. Thurston and her colleagues followed 1,455 women enrolled in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) who had not yet gone through menopause when they enrolled. The women lived in Pittsburgh, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, CA, or Newark, NJ, and were not on hormone therapy, nor did they have a hysterectomy. Each year, the women reported their vasomotor symptoms, along with receiving a clinical examination and sometimes a blood test.
The researchers found that the women could be relatively equally divided into four distinct trajectories for vasomotor symptoms as they went through menopause transition, and that certain characteristics were more common in different categories:
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