DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Anxiety Worsens Hot Flashes

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

Controlling lifestyle stress and anxiety may help reduce the number and severity of hot flashes associated with menopause, according to doctors at the University of Pennsylvania.

Hot flashes are perhaps the most troublesome symptom associated with approaching menopause and are experienced by a majority of women during the transition to menopause. Menopause - the ending of menstruation - is defined as having 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period and occurs at an average age of 51.

Researchers studied over 400 Caucasian and African American women between 37 and 47 years of age who still had regular menstrual cycles. The women took tests that measured their anxiety levels at the start of the study and again following a six-year period. After six years, many of the women were experiencing hot flashes and irregular menstrual periods, two signs of approaching menopause. The women's anxiety scores were directly correlated with the severity and frequency of hot flashes, even when factors such as blood estrogen levels, cigarette smoking, and stage of menopause were taken into account. Those women with the highest anxiety levels reported almost five times as many hot flashes as less-anxious women, and women with moderate anxiety had hot flashes three times as often as those with normal levels of anxiety.

These results are particularly intriguing because they suggest that women can have some measure of control over their unpleasant symptoms of menopause by implementing lifestyle alterations such as stress management or relaxation techniques. Other studies have shown that obesity and cigarette smoking can also worsen menopausal hot flashes.

Reference: Freeman EW, Sammel MD, Lin H, Gracia CR, Kapoor S, Ferdousi T. The role of anxiety and hormonal changes in menopausal hot flashes. Menopause. 2005 May/June;12(3):258-266.


Last Editorial Review: 3/20/2009