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Genes may play a role in which women get hot flashes

Like many women, Betty Glick experiences hot flashes from menopause.

“The immediate thing is just feeling flushed with heat,” she told CBS News, “and for me, it’s normally from the neck up. I immediately start to sweat.”

But while about 70 percent of women experience these symptoms at some point before or during menopause, a significant minority do not.

Researchers from UCLA sought to answer why that is, and their new study suggests genetics may determine which women suffer with the common menopause symptom.

They looked at data from nearly 18,000 postmenopausal women and examined more than 11 million gene variants – called single-nucleotide polymorphisms – sampled across the entire genome.

The results showed that women who had certain gene variants that affect a part of the brain that regulates estrogen were more likely to have hot flashes.

This was the first study ever done to look across the whole genome for a connection to hot flashes and night sweats, the researchers said.

The authors say they hope that a better understanding of why some women get hot flashes and some don’t could eventually lead to new treatments.

“It will lead us to figuring out the biological mechanism for hot flashes,” the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Carolyn Crandall, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told CBS News. “If we know the mechanism is, then maybe we can create some therapies.” 

The authors acknowledge that the study could not determine how environmental factors might have played a role, and that they may not have been able to identify other, rare gene variants that could also affect hot flashes. They note that more research is needed on how all these factors may affect menopause symptoms.

As for Glick, she was on hormone replacement therapy for a few years, but stopped the treatment. She still suffers from hot flashes and has had to find alternative ways to cope. Her weapon of choice? She keeps a fan handy.

“It’s like so many things, you just learn how to cope, you know,” she said.