It is commonly thought that hot flashes occur for 3 to 5 years around the time of a woman’s last menstrual period, then stop. But a new study has shown that is not true. Rather than follow one pattern, women reliably fit into one of four different categories that describe their hot flashes.
The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation is a study of 3,302 women. For the past 22 years, each of them has undergone yearly physical, biological, and psychological health testing. The study was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (USA).
Part of the study involved asking each woman to report on the frequency and severity of their hot flashes over the years. The results showed that women reliably fell into one of four categories. Interestingly, about ¼ of women fall into each of these categories.
Early Onset Hot Flashes
These women start to experience hot flashes 5 to 10 years before their last menstrual period. They stop about the time of their last period.
Late Onset Hot Flashes
These women are the opposite of the Early Onset group. Hot flashes in the Late Onset group start after the final menstrual period, and can persist for some years to follow.
This is the unlucky group, because their symptoms appear years before their final period (like the Early Onset group), but the Super Flashers continue having symptoms well past their final period. Sometimes the hot flashes can last into a woman’s 70s.
Called the “Lucky Few” by the researchers, these women have no hot flashes at all, or at most a few episodes around their final period.
While each group includes about 25% of the women, the researchers found some other characteristics of the groups. The Early Onset group were more likely to be white and obese, and the Late Onset group contained more smokers. The Super Flashers were more likely to be black, consume more alcohol, or be in poorer health. The Lucky Few included more Asian women and women in better health.
These other health characteristics were not absolute, and a woman of any race, weight, or health status could be in any of the groups.
It is not yet known if being in good health increases a woman’s chance of falling into the Lucky Few category, but that could be inferred from the research. The researchers emphasize that the value of finding which category a woman fits into helps plan treatment options which minimize symptoms, such as hormone therapy.
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