Women nearing menopause — especially black women — should be prepared for many more years of hot flashes than previously expected.
A new study following nearly 1,500 American women with frequent hot flashes has found the symptoms persist for a median of seven years. Those who begin to suffer well before menopause are also the most likely to continue dealing with them for the longest time.
“These findings require that we revise our standard clinical wisdom that hot flashes only last three to five years around that final menstrual period,” said Rebecca Thurston, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, and one of the study authors. “They actually last for much longer.”
Of the ethnic groups studied, African-Americans were the most likely to have to contend with extended hot flashes, averaging a little over a decade. Hispanic women reported a median of nearly nine years; white women, between six and seven years; and Asian women, about five years. The findings were published this week in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
The reasons behind those large ethnic differences are not clear, but could not be explained by differences in obesity, education, socioeconomic status, or mood — factors that could predict an individual’s experience.
“We just don’t understand the underlying physiology enough,” said Thurston.
Ellen Freeman, a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania, has found similar results in smaller-scale studies.
“The women whose hot flashes started right at the beginning of what we term the transition to menopause, definitely had the longest hot flashes,” she said of her study. “They were considerably longer than the women who started kind of midrange and the women who started post-menopause had the shortest duration.”
The fact that so many women endure hot flashes for so long raises real questions about how beneficial hormone therapy can be, Freeman said.
Hormone therapy has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer and heart attack, and therefore is recommended only in small doses for short periods of time.