Up to 80 percent of menopausal women suffer hot flashes, but doctors have typically reassured women that these embarrassing, uncomfortable bursts of heat and sweat won’t last long. You know, maybe six months. Two years, tops.
Ha-ha. Try up to 14 years.
A new study — one of the first to look at a large, multiracial group of women — found that hot flashes typically last for seven years or more and that some women have reported suffering with them for up to 14 years. Even worse, if the hot flashes start early, say while a woman is in perimenopause when menstruation becomes infrequent, the hot flashes can last even longer.
The research, published Feb. 16 in JAMA Internal Medicine, also found that African American women tended to have hot flashes the longest — typically 10 years — followed by Hispanic women at nearly nine years. Asian women had them for the shortest time.
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The findings were based on 1,449 women from seven U.S. cities, followed from 1996 to 2013. All of the women had frequent hot flashes and night sweats, meaning for at least six days in the previous two weeks, and none had had a hysterectomy or was on hormone therapy. The study also found that having frequent symptoms was associated with more anxiety, depression, sleep problems, heart disease risk and poorer bone health.
The study was praised by experts, the New York Times reported, because it included a much larger, more diverse group of women than previous studies. “It’s such a real-world study of women we are seeing day in and day out,” Risa Kagan, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Times. “There is no other study like this.”
And it’s about time, noted the authors of an accompanying commentary, considering that 60 percent of middle-aged women seek treatment or advice for these symptoms that can disrupt work, home life and health.
“Despite the high prevalence of [hot flashes] among midlife women, surprisingly little research has been done,” wrote authors Gloria Richard-Davis, M.D., of the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences in Little Rock, and JoAnn E. Manson, M.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The new study “has overturned the dogma that [hot flashes] have a short duration, minimally affect women’s health or quality of life, and can be readily addressed by short-term approaches,” they wrote. Doctors now need to understand that these symptoms can last much longer and may need a variety of approaches to help women find relief.
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