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Menopause: Smokers Have More Hot Flashes

Genes Can Play an Additional Role, Too, Study Finds
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May 3, 2012 -- There are countless reasons why women who smoke should kick the habit for their health, but here's one more.

Smoking women have more hot flashes as they transition through menopause, and this is especially true for women who carry certain genes, a new study finds.

Previous research has linked cigarette smoking to earlier menopause and worse symptoms, but the study is among the first to examine the impact of smoking and genes on hot flashes.

Smokers Had More Hot Flashes

As expected, smokers in the study reported more hot flashes than women who did not smoke.

But smokers who also carried specific gene variations linked to estrogen metabolism and susceptibility to environmental toxins had the most hot flashes of all, says researcher and ob-gyn Samantha Butts, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

Butts says knowing that smoking increases the frequency and severity of hot flashes may convince some menopausal women to give up cigarettes once and for all, even if they have tried to quit before.

About 1 in 5 women in the U.S. -- roughly 20 million women -- smokes cigarettes.

"The reason close to 20% of women still smoke is because it is really hard to quit," Butts says. "But if you tell a woman who is having terrible hot flashes that it might be because she smokes, that could make all the difference."

Menopause, Smoking, and Genes

The study included close to 300 women followed for just over a decade as part of a larger menopause study. About half the participants were African-American and half were white.

The women were still menstruating when they entered the study, and they either entered menopause or completed it over 11 years of observation.

During this time, blood samples were taken and the women were questioned about their medical and reproductive histories, as well as their menopausal symptoms and lifestyle.

Women who had one or more of five gene variations linked to the metabolism of estrogen and susceptibility to environmental toxins, like cigarette smoke, had more hot flash symptoms than women without the variants. This was especially true for African-American women, Butts says.

After factoring in the impact of other hot flash risk factors, such as obesity and alcohol consumption, African-American smokers were 84% more likely to experience hot flashes at one point in the study than African-American nonsmokers. White smokers were 56% more likely to have hot flashes than white nonsmokers.

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