Menopausal hot flushes negatively impact quality of life and may be a biomarker of cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk; therefore understanding the physiology of hot flushes is important. Current thinking is that a small elevation (∼0.03-0.05oC) in core temperature surpasses a sweating threshold (that is reduced in the menopause), sweating is activated, and a hot flush ensues. Nevertheless, more recent studies examining thermoregulatory control question whether core temperature per se can explain the trigger for a hot flush. The primary aim of this study was to assess the contribution of increases in core temperature on the occurrence of menopausal hot flushes.
For this purpose, 108 hot flushes were objectively assessed in a laboratory setting in 72 symptomatic postmenopausal women (aged 45.8 ± 5.1 years; body mass index 25.9 ± 4.5 kg/m2) from five previously reported studies. Women rested, wearing a tube-lined suit (or trousers), which was perfused with 34oC water. A subset then underwent mild heat stress (48°C water). Sweat rate, skin blood flow, blood pressure, heart rate, skin, and core temperature were measured continuously throughout. A hot flush was objectively identified during rest (spontaneous hot flush) or mild heating as an abrupt increase in sternal sweat rate. Further, a subset of symptomatic postmenopausal women (n = 22) underwent whole-body passive heating for 60 minutes to identify core temperature thresholds and sensitivities for sweat rate and cutaneous vasodilation, which were compared to a subset of premenopausal women (n = 18). Data were analyzed using t tests and/or general linear modeling, and are presented as mean (95% confidence interval).
In the 20 minutes before a spontaneous hot flush, core temperature increased by 0.03 ± 0.12oC (P < 0.05), but only 51% of hot flushes were preceded by an increase in core temperature. During mild heating, 76% of hot flushes were preceded by an increase in core temperature. The temperature thresholds for sweating were similar, but the vasodilatory threshold was higher in postmenopausal compared with premenopausal women (37.1 ± 0.2 vs 36.8 ± 0.3°C; P = 0.06).
We provide new evidence that menopausal hot flushes are unlikely triggered by an increase in core temperature. These findings provide important information about the physiology of hot flushes that have implications for treatment and management options for menopausal hot flushes.