Sept. 21, 2011 -- Several recent studies have linked hot flashes to an increased risk for heart disease, and now new research suggests a link between these menopause symptoms and increased cholesterol.
The study is being presented in Washington D.C. this week at the 22nd annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society.
Researchers followed more than 3,000 women in their 40s and early 50s for seven years as they transitioned through menopause.
After taking into account other heart disease risk factors they found hot flashes and, to a lesser extent, night sweats to be predictive of higher cholesterol. The more hot flashes the women had, the higher their LDL "bad" and HDL "good" cholesterol.
"I think hot flashes and night sweats tell us something about women's cardiovascular risk and health, but it is also likely that this message is quite complex," study researcher Rebecca C. Thurston, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh tells WebMD.
Hot Flashes and Cholesterol
The analysis included 3,201 women between the ages of 42 and 52 when enrolled in the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN).
Perimenopausal and postmenopausal women who had hot flashes six or more days during a two-week period were considered to have a high frequency of hot flashes.
These women had significantly higher LDL, HDL, triglycerides, ApoE, and ApoA levels than women who had no hot flashes. That held true even after the researchers took into account other risk factors for elevated cholesterol, including age and body weight.
Impact on Heart Disease?
Mosca is the director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a past president of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology.
Since hot flashes appeared to be associated with an increase in both LDL and HDL cholesterol in the study, Mosca agrees that the take-home message is not clear.
"If hot flashes really are associated with higher levels of both good and bad cholesterol, I have no idea what that means," she says.
One message that is clear, she says, is that menopause is associated with substantial alterations in heart disease risk.
"This is an important time to see your doctor and have your cardiovascular risk assessed," she says.