A new study suggests that former smokers may experience fewer and milder hot flashes during menopause than do women who are still smoking. Menopausal women who had quit smoking at least five years earlier were 45 percent less likely to be plagued by severe or frequent hot flashes, according to the researchers. Women who had been smokers at any time in their lives, however, were still more prone to the symptoms than women who had never smoked.
Lead author of the study and a researcher in epidemiology at the University of Illinois, said:
While the effect was strongest if women quit at least five years before the onset of menopause, even women quitting later did have a better outcome than women who continued to smoke. I hope that this encourages women to quit smoking, the earlier the better.
Menopause begins when women stop menstruating, usually between age 45 and 55. As the ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone, women often have symptoms that range from vaginal dryness, to mood swings and insomnia. Hot flashes are one of the symptoms women find most intrusive.
The study, reported in the journal Maturitas, followed 761 women (aged 45 to 54) for seven years. When the study commenced, 347 of the women reported having hot flashes. Only 39 percent of those who had never smoked had hot flashes, while 52 percent of former smokers and 62 percent of current smokers were experiencing hot flashes.
Current smokers were the hardest hit. 47 percent of women who currently smoked said they had moderate to severe hot flashes on a daily to weekly basis. Severe hot flashes were reported by only 36 percent of former smokers, and only 22 percent of those who had never smoked. Only about 10 percent of those in the “never smoked” group were afflicted with daily or weekly hot flashes.
When compared with current smokers, the former smokers were 37 percent less likely to experience hot flashes, and 22 percent less likely to report frequent or severe symptoms. Overall, current smokers were four times more likely to experience hot flashes.
The researchers say the study doesn’t prove that smoking is a causative factor in hot flashes, nor that it makes them worse. But their conclusions are in line with earlier studies. They believe smoking may disrupt the activity of the hormones and neurotransmitters involved in menopause.
Stopping smoking at least five years before the onset of menopause was linked a reduction of 14 percent in the severity of hot flashes, and a 19 percent reduction in frequency, when compared to having stopped more recently.
Of course, smoking is implicated in conditions far more serious than hot flashes. It has been proven to dramatically increase the chance of cardiovascular disease, strokes and a number of cancers.