WEDNESDAY, July 31 (HealthDay News) -- The hot flashes that
bedevil many women going through menopause appear to originate in
specific brain areas, scientists say.
"We think we have the beginnings of what is happening in the brain," said researcher Vaibhav Diwadkar, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University in Detroit.
"Activity in certain areas of the brain changes even before the hot flash occurs," Diwadkar said.
The findings, published in the June issue of
Cerebral Cortex, may eventually give experts an idea of how
well a menopause treatment is working, beyond a woman's
self-reports. "In the future, we can measure the effects of
treatment by measuring brain activity," he explained.
Menopause -- the end of a woman's monthly periods -- can involve
unpleasant symptoms, including disrupted sleep, flagging energy and
hot flashes, which are intense temporary episodes of warmth caused
by hormonal changes.
For the study, Diwadkar and his colleagues asked 20 healthy,
menopausal women, aged 47 to 58, who had six or more hot flashes a
day to undergo a special type of MRI known as a functional MRI. The
women remained in the machine for about two hours, in between two
body-sized heating pads, waiting for a hot flash.
The researchers identified the flashes by collecting levels of
skin conductance, an electrical measure of sweating.
The investigators found that activity in the brainstem preceded
the hot flashes. The brainstem connects the hemispheres of the
cerebellum with the spinal cord. Its sub-regions are involved in
Activity in the insula -- in the front of the brain -- followed
the hot flash. This area, part of the cerebral cortex, has been
linked with the personal perception of how you feel.
The researchers were surprised to find activity in the brain
even before the hot flash, Diwadkar said, but they were not
surprised at the neural origins of the hot flashes, which they
always suspected. "It's not as if we went looking for an elephant
and found a unicorn," he said. With hot flashes, "there has to be
something going on in the brain," he added.
The findings are helpful, said Robin McAllen, a professor at the
University of Melbourne in Australia, who was not involved in the
"For the first time, it separates the early brain events," McAllen said. But more work is needed, including finding the neural pathways that trigger the hot flash, he noted.
"This is a clear advance from our previous state of knowledge (which was not great)," McAllen added. "It points the way forward, but we are still a long way from being able to use this work to find new treatments for hot flashes."
Among the treatments used to relieve hot flashes are hormone
therapy or antidepressants. Dressing in layers, so that jackets or
sweaters can be removed when a hot flash occurs, is often
Dietary changes might also help some women bothered by hot
flashes. Triggers are said to include hot and spicy foods,
caffeinated beverages, alcohol and smoking.
To learn more about menopause, visit
U.S. Office on Women's Health.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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