Up to fifty percent of women of menopausal age experience night sweats – an experience that’s frustrating and disruptive for most. But there may be good news for those women who experience the night sweats of menopause. They may actually live longer than their sweat-free counterparts. Here’s why.
Night Sweat of Menopause and Morality – Are They Related?
A study published in the journal Menopause looked at the medical histories of 867 postmenopausal women. The women were questioned about their lifestyle habits as well as their experience with night sweats and hot flashes and were then closely followed. To the surprise of the researchers, women who experienced both night sweats and hot flashes had an overall mortality rate that was thirty percent lower than women who didn’t have night sweats. Having hot flashes alone without night sweats didn’t seem to alter the risk of mortality. It appears that night sweats and hot flashes offer some benefit when it comes to post-menopausal health – at least according to this study. This association didn’t appear to be affected by other factors such as use of hormone therapy or other lifestyle habits.
Why Are Night Sweats and Mortality Associated?
Although this study looking at night sweats and mortality has some limitations, it does show an intriguing association. Why would having night sweats lower the risk of dying? The researchers offered no explanation for this. Night sweats and hot flashes occur because of interaction between the portion of the brain called the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the estrogen producing ovaries. As the ovaries slow down their estrogen production at menopause, the hypothalamus and pituitary kick into overdrive – kicking out hormones in an attempt to jump start the failing ovaries. It’s believed that high levels of pituitary and hypothalamic hormones cause the experience of night sweats and hot flashes. Not surprisingly, the hypothalamus is also the portion of the brain responsible for controlling temperature, which may explain the sensation of heat.
Despite the fact that night sweats and hot flashes may be a marker for a longer life span, they’re still difficult for many women to tolerate. Some women have them so badly that they require prescription medications. Keep in mind that night sweats can be due to causes other than menopause and can be the first sign of an underlying medical problem such as an overactive thyroid or an undiagnosed cancer. If the night sweats persist, see your doctor.
Contributing Arthur: Kristie Leong,M.D