Irritating problems such as hot flashes and night sweats cause distress in many women at menopause, and a new study published in the journal Menopause found that hot flashes are associated with a higher body mass index (BMI)
The study of 749 Brazilian women aged 45 to 60 years showed that obese women suffered more severe hot flashes than women of normal weight. The hot flashes caused them to stop certain activities and also decreased their work efficiency.
The data support the “thermoregulatory theory,” which proposes that BMI is positively associated with vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, because body-fat tissue acts as a strong heat insulator. The insulation makes the distribution of heat more difficult, which then causes obese women to suffer more hot flashes.
The study also confirmed associations between an increased BMI and other symptoms, such as joint and muscular pain and more intense urinary problems.
“This study supports earlier studies that found that women who are heavier tend to have more hot flashes, particularly close to menopause,” says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of The North American Menopause Society.
“In some studies, but not all, weight loss and exercise have both been shown to reduce hot flashes in women who are obese, thus giving women even more reason to create a healthier lifestyle for themselves,” Pinkerton said.
A recent study also published in Menopause found that women who have frequent hot flashes may be at an increased risk of heart disease, especially those in younger midlife (40 to 53 years). The study found that hot flashes may signal poor vascular function that can lead to heart disease. “Hot flashes are not just a nuisance, says Pinkerton. “They have been linked to cardiovascular, bone, and brain health.”