It was like nothing I'd ever felt before. There I was, sitting on my in-laws' sofa on an otherwise comfortable summer evening, when I was overwhelmed by a wave of heat so intense I began looking around to find its source. Turns out, the house was not on fire as I had suspected. In fact, no one else even felt the heat that was now causing buckets of sweat to roll down my face and torso. I had just had my first hot flash.
And it's all my mother's fault.
A hot flash is a sudden and intense feeling of heat. It's a symptom of menopause or perimenopause, and it's often accompanied by sweating and a red, flushed face. In other words, it's uncomfortable, embarrassing, and a sure sign that you're getting old. No wonder women refuse to talk about them.
A whopping 70 percent of women experience hot flashes during menopause, but that means a lucky 30 percent do not. To date, health experts have been unclear why some women experience hot flashes while others don't, but a new study published in the journal Menopause has found that it all boils down to genetics.
The gene is out of the bottle
The study was led by Dr. Carolyn Crandall, a professor of medicine at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. Crandall and her team looked at the data from 17,695 postmenopausal women of all ethnicities between the ages of 50 and 79 years who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative and provided DNA samples and information about their experiences with hot flashes or night sweats. In addition, the researchers sifted through data on more than 11 million gene variants to find some sort of connection to this most despised menopausal symptom.
Crandall and her team were able to pinpoint 14 gene variants that were linked with hot flashes, all of which were located on a section of chromosome 4 that's responsible for sending information to the brain about the release of estrogen. Previous studies have shown that damage to the genes encoding these receptors could cause infertility, but this is the first study to show that a gene variation within these receptors could be linked to hot flashes.
Researchers still don't know why these gene variants might cause hot flashes. But Crandall and her team are on their way to better understanding this incredibly annoying sign of aging, and the treatment options that might help dissipate its symptoms.
"If we can better identify what genetic variants are associated with hot flashes, this could lead to novel treatments to relieve them," Crandall told UCLA Newsroom.
So blame (or thank) your mother for your likelihood to experience hot flashes. But more importantly, know that help is on the way.