Most women going through menopause experience at least some degree of hot flashes. These usually begin with a sudden felling of heat starting in the torso up to the face sometimes causing a great deal of discomfort. Hot flashes are the result of a decrease in estrogen but stress and anxiety may contribute to the number and severity of hot flashes a woman experiences during perimenopause and menopause according to a study completed at the University of Pennsylvania. The results of the study were published in the May/June, 2005 edition of Menopause.
The researchers studied over 400 women between the ages of 37 and 47 over a six year period of time. The women were evaluated for anxiety at the beginning of the study and again at the end. The scientists found a direct correlation between the level of anxiety and the frequency and intensity of hot flashes:
- Women with high levels of anxiety reported 5 times as many hot flashes as those with less anxiety.
- Women with moderate anxiety reported 3 times as many hot flashes as those with normal levels of anxiety.
The study took into account other known triggers for hot flashes, such as estrogen levels, the stage of menopause, obesity and cigarette smoking.
Dr. Jason Eric Schiffman, in an article on HealthWomen.com, states, women in the perimenopausal period are more likely to experience panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms than other women of the same age who are either pre- or postmenopausal." Dr. Schiffman efurther explains that when menopause ends, anxiety levels often decrease, however, there may be other environmental factors that contribute to increased anxiety during menopause. For example Dr. Schiffman indicates that women who have experiences more negative life events are more vulnerable to developing anxiety than those who have not.
Because the main reason for hot flashes is the decrease of estrogen, hormonal therapy including estrogen and progesterone can reduce hot flashes. These treatments, however, can cause other health problems and should be carefully discussed with your doctor and should only be used for the shortest amount of time necessary. Some possible health risks include heart disease or blood clots.
For those women who can’t take estrogen, anti-depressants or anti-seizure medicationsmay work.
Based on the studies showing a relationship between stress and hot flashes, using stress relieving strategies may also help. Adding daily meditation, deep breathing and other relaxation techniques may decrease both the frequency and the intensity of the your hot flashes.
For more information on stress-relieving techniques:
“Menopause and Anxiety: What’s The Connection?” 2011, Aug 9, Sheryl Kraft, HealthWomen.com
“The Role of Anxiety and Hormonal Changes in Menopausal Hot Flashes,” 2005, May/June, E.W. Freeman, M.D. Sammel, H. Lin, C.R. Gracia, S. Kapoor, T. Ferdousi, Menopause, pp. 258-266