Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Hot flashes and the heart

Heart beat

Hot flashes and the heart

Hot flashes bedevil many women as they go through menopause. These episodes of intense heat, sweating, and flushing can disturb sleep, depress mood, and cause irritability. For some women, hot flashes fade away after a few years. For others, the episodes last into their 70s and beyond.

In addition to being aggravating and sometimes embarrassing, persistent hot flashes may be a warning sign of cardiovascular trouble ahead. In several large studies, older women plagued by hot flashes in their 60s and 70s were more likely than their flash-free counterparts to have high blood pressure or high cholesterol or to have a buildup of calcium in their arteries, a sign of stiffened or cholesterol-clogged arteries. Since hot flashes don't cause these problems, taking estrogen won't reverse them. The latest research suggests that, in older women, estrogen may even promote harmful changes in the arteries.

If menopause is behind you, but hot flashes aren't, it may be even more important for you to pay extra attention to your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and exercise.

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