What's in a name: are menopausal “hot flashes” a symptom of menopause or a manifestation of neurovascular dysregulation?

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Hot flashes have typically been classified as “symptoms of menopause” that should be tolerated or treated until they resolve. However, mounting evidence points to hot flashes as a manifestation of one or several underlying pathophysiological processes. Associations exist between the presence, timing of onset, severity, and duration of hot flashes, and the risk of several neurological (affecting sleep, mood, and cognition) and cardiovascular conditions. In addition, four consistent patterns of vasomotor disturbances have been identified across different countries, making it unlikely that these patterns are solely explained by socioeconomic or cultural factors. The changing hormonal environment of menopause may unmask differences in the autonomic neurovascular control mechanisms that put an individual woman at risk for chronic conditions of aging. These differences may have a genetic basis or may be acquired across the life span and are consistent with the variability of the clinical manifestations of aging observed in women after bilateral oophorectomy. It is time to investigate the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying the four patterns of vasomotor symptoms more closely, and to shift from describing hot flashes as symptoms to be tolerated to manifestations of an underlying autonomic neurovascular dysregulation that need to be addressed.

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