TIME Research

Most Women Experience Hot Flashes for Over 7 Years, Study Finds

Symptoms of the menopause last longer than previously thought

Hot flashes, night sweats and other symptoms of menopause typically affect women much longer than previously thought, a median of 7.4 years, according to a new study.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at a group of nearly 1,500 women with frequent symptoms of the onset of menopause and found significant variations in duration of menopausal vasomotor symptoms (VMS) between ethnic groups.

African-American women experience symptoms for a median of 10.1 years, more than any other ethnic group. On average, Chinese and Japanese women experienced the symptoms for the shortest duration—5.4 and 4.8 years, respectively.

Women who experienced hot flashes and night sweats at a younger age tended to have them last longer, the study found, as did women with less education and greater levels of stress.

Read More: Do Married People Really Live Longer?

“These findings can help health care professionals counsel patients about expectations regarding VMS and assist women in making treatment decisions based on the probability of their VMS persisting,” said the study, which notes that 80% of women experience such symptoms.

The study challenges the long-held notion that these experiences “minimally affect women’s health or quality of life and can be readily addressed by short-term approaches,” according to a commentary that accompanies the study.

TIME Reproductive Health

Beauty Products May Trigger Early Menopause

Pefume bottle
Bogdan Kosanovic—Getty Images

Biology determines when women hit menopause, but exposure to some common household products and pollutants may drive that timing even earlier

Menopause, like puberty, is a reproductive rite of passage, and marks for women the end of their fertility and child-bearing years. But studies show that it’s not just age that can determine when menopause starts — exposure to certain chemicals and pollutants can also play a role.

In one of the most comprehensive looks at possible menopause-disruptors to date, researchers led by Dr. Amber Cooper, from the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis, report in the journal PLOS ONE that such exposure can push menopause up by as much as four years.

Cooper and her team studied 31,575 women enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the government. Every two years, the women were surveyed about various health and nutrition issues, including whether they had begun menopause. At some point between 1999 and 2008, each of the participants also provided at least one blood and urine sample which the scientists analyzed for the presence of various chemicals, including dioxins contained in pesticides, phthalates found in fragrance, plastics, cosmetics and hair spray, plant-derived estrogens, and polychlorinated biphenyls, among others. The researchers found that women with the highest levels of 111 of these chemicals on average had menopause anywhere from 1.9 years to 3.8 years earlier than those with lower levels.

How could Cooper be so certain that the exposure was linked to the early menopause? She and her team conducted other analyses, including one of women closer to menopause, between the ages of 45 and 55 years, and found a similar association. They also found that it wasn’t just exposure, but increasing exposure over time that was also connected to problems with ovarian function, another potential consequence of the chemicals on reproductive health. And when they looked at all of the women in the survey from age 30 years on, those with the highest blood and urine measurements were six times more likely to be menopausal than women with lower readings.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” says Cooper, who stresses that the results don’t prove that exposure to these chemicals causes early menopause, only that the two might be connected somehow. ”We need more longitudinal studies to better understand each of these chemicals.”

Previous studies have linked certain chemicals to disruptions in the reproductive hormones, including estrogen, which can then have unhealthy effects on the heart and bone.

What’s concerning is the fact that with the majority of the chemicals, there isn’t much women can do to reduce their exposure. That’s because each of the compounds have different half lives, or time in which they can linger before completely breaking down. While PCBs have been banned in the U.S. since the 1970s, for example, their long half lives mean people may still be exposed to them in the soil, air and water, and in through animals or other things that have contact with them. Women can try to reduce their exposure to some of these chemicals by using products that do not contain synthetic fragrance—which is listed as “fragrance” or “parfum” and which contains phthalates. Women can also opt for organic beauty products, which would not contain pesticide residues and a number of other chemicals.

Cooper advises her patients to be more aware of their potential sources of exposure, including plastics in food packaging, and perhaps try microwaving only in glass and paper containers. “My goal is not to scare women, but raise awareness and promote future research,” she says.

TIME prostate cancer

Hypnosis Reduced This Person’s Hot Flashes By 94%

One man's hot flashes vanished with hypnosis

One man with terrible hot flashes—about 160 a week—found relief through hypnosis.

In a Baylor University case study recently published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, a 69-year-old man referred to as Mr. W underwent seven weeks of hypnotic relaxation therapy for hot flashes, and had positive results.

Although it’s less common, men indeed can get hot flashes, though they are typically less inclined to seek treatment for them. Unlike women, whose hot flashes are usually related to changes in estrogen, prostate cancer survivors can develop hot flashes as well. Hot flashes due to prostate cancer can actually be more severe and last longer than hot flashes among women.

“If a guy has hot flashes, you can’t say, ‘Well, why don’t we put you on estrogen?’ But it’s a pressing problem,” said study author Gary Elkins, director of Baylor’s Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory in a statement.

Mr. W, who was a prostate cancer survivor, went under both hypnosis with a therapist, and self-hypnosis. During the hypnosis, Mr.W imagined he was at his favorite fishing spot, sitting on a bucket between two trees on a long shore of grass, watching the water early in the morning. The hypnosis transcript would tell he would experience comfort and coolness, and that he would feel a cool breeze coming across the lake and would feel it on his face. Mr. W reported that he learned how to stop his hot flashes with self-hypnosis, and by the end of the sessions, he had a 94% decrease in hot flashes and a 87% increase in sleep quality.

The findings support earlier studies from the researchers on postmenopausal women and breast cancer survivors. People have varying responses to being hypnotized, but the researchers are hopeful, since it could be a cost effective way for people to deal with their symptoms themselves, without drugs.

TIME menopause

The Best Cures for Hot Flashes

Non-hormonal treatments for hot flashes and night sweats work as well as estrogen therapy, study says

For many women, the symptoms of menopause can feel unbearable, especially those hot flashes and night sweats. Although there’s continuous debate over the risks and benefits of hormone therapy, current recommendations are that women undergoing treatment should take the smallest dose for only a brief period of time. For women who want care for longer, there’s a desire for a non-hormonal alternative.

Estrogen therapy tends to be the go-to treatment, but Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) researchers looked at whether a non-hormonal treatment called venlafaxine hydrochloride is just as effective. Generally, the authors note, venlafaxine hydrochloride is thought to be an inferior treatment.

(MORE: The Truth About Hormones)

The researchers had 339 perimenopausal and postmenopausal women with at least two bothersome symptoms a day take either estrogen therapy, venlafaxine hydrochloride, or a placebo. They discovered that estrogen therapy and venlafaxine hydrochloride were similarly successful at combating menopause-related problems.

After eight weeks, hot flash and night sweat frequency went down by 52.9% among the women taking low-dose estradiol (estrogen therapy) and 47.6% among women taking venlafaxine. Symptoms went down by 28.6% for women taking placebo. The researchers acknowledge that while the findings show estrogen therapy had a slight edge over venlafaxine, it was so small that it’s considered of low clinical significance.

Treating menopause symptoms got complicated when the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study, a 15-year investigation into the factors that contribute to the health of postmenopausal women, was halted three years early when an early data review showed women taking the combination of estrogen and progestin had a higher rate of breast cancer, heart disease and stroke than women taking a placebo. In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force confirmed the WHI trial’s findings, concluding after a review of 51 studies published since 2002 that the risks of HRT outweighed the benefits. Given the potential risks, there’s a push to find other options.

The knowledge that treatments that don’t involve hormones are effective and available, is therefore extremely valuable for women seeking relief, the study concludes.

The study is published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

 

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