Hot flashes are perhaps the most infamous menopause symptom. Indeed, most people think of hot flashes when they hear anything pertaining to menopause. While we are comfortable with the association between menopause and hot flashes, it is crucial to know that other things can cause hot flashes. If you are asking, “can hot flashes be a sign of heart problems,” you are in the right place because we are about to get to the bottom of hot flashes and cardiovascular complications.
What causes hot flashes?
Also known as vasomotor syndrome, hot flashes are a sensation of intense heat. Typically, hot flashes plague women in middle age, specifically in their 40s and 50s. Traditionally, hot flashes are thought to be caused by a disruption in female sex hormones that throw off your hypothalamus, your body’s internal thermostat. When estrogen levels fluctuate in perimenopause, your hypothalamus can become overly sensitive to the information received from thermoreceptors in your skin. When your hypothalamus becomes overly responsive, it causes a cascade of symptoms that make you feel uncomfortable and…H.O.T.
Hot flashes symptoms include:
- A sudden feeling of intense warmth spreading over your chest, neck, and face
- Flushing on your skin (red and blotchy in appearance)
- Rapid heart rate
- Sweating all over, but mainly is concentrated on your upper body
- Feeling anxious
- A chilled sensation as the hot flash goes away.
The above vasomotor symptoms are not just isolated to women in menopause. In fact, there are other hot flashes causes aside from menopause. People can have hot flashes with the following:
- Eating disorders
- Some birth controls
- Some medications
- Environmental triggers (like temperature)
- Spicy foods
- Thyroid disease
Do hot flashes indicate heart disease?
A study published in the medical journal, Circulation, monitored women over a 20-year period for cardiovascular disease risk. The study sheds light on a correlation between heart disease and the frequency of hot flashes experienced by women in their menopausal years. The study found that women with frequent hot flashes were at greater risk for cardiovascular complications (like aortic stenosis and calcification of the arteries) than women with fewer hot flashes.
We know that women have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease compared to men, especially after menopause. Indeed, women are at greater risk for high blood pressure than their male counterparts of the same age after menopause. While researchers are still exploring the exact causes of the menopause risk factor for heart disease, there is a consensus that estrogen plays some role in this risk (although we do not know how much of a role estrogen plays as of now. Estrogen has been considered cardioprotective as this hormone has receptors all throughout the cardiovascular system. Thus, when estrogen levels fall, your risk factor for heart disease goes up.
“Estrogen has been considered cardioprotective as this hormone has receptors all throughout the cardiovascular system. Thus, when estrogen levels fall, your risk factor for heart disease goes up.”
I have hot flashes. Does that mean I have heart problems?
Likely, if you have hot flashes, it is a sign that you are experiencing some imbalance in your hormones, especially If you are in your 40s to 50s. When you start experiencing hot flashes or any other menopause symptom for that matter, it is an excellent time to meet with your doctor. Having a thorough health exam at the start of menopause can help in several ways. Firstly, it can help confirm you are in menopause and rule out other health conditions. Secondly, checking all of your body systems can help identify other health problems that may make your menopause journey more challenging. Thirdly, it can give you confidence that strange symptoms (like heart palpitations) are more likely related to hormones instead of another condition. And finally, a thorough exam can help you get started with preventative practices to ward off longterm health conditions like osteoporosis and heart disease.
The final word(s) on hot flashes and heart problems
Can hot flashes be a sign of heart problems? Well, the answer is maybe, based on recent research from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nations. We know that women are at greater risk for heart disease, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States. So, whether you have hot flashes or not, early prevention is key to warding off heart problems as you get older.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.