Source of hot flashes subject of new study by University of Texas at Austin nursing researcher

Sept. 27, 2006

A University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing researcher has received a two-year, $218,000 grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health for a new study to explore the triggers of hot flashes during menopause.

Dr. Sharon Dormire eventually hopes to develop alternative treatments for hot flashes so women will not have to depend on hormone therapy.

Dormire is expanding on findings from her earlier research that suggests that hot flashes are triggered as a result of an estrogen-related decline in glucose delivery to the brain.

"Hot flashes are experienced by approximately 80 percent of women between ages 45 and 54 in the United States, making this a significant concern during menopause," said Dormire. "They can disrupt women's lives and affect work responsibilities, social activities and sleep. While they occur widely, the trigger mechanism for hot flashes is unknown. And, it is a health area that is completely understudied."

"Research that focuses on uncovering the hot flash mechanism has the potential to redirect treatment strategies," she said.

"The most effective treatment for hot flashes has been the use of hormone therapy. But, confusion and anxiety about hormone therapy following the publication of findings regarding cardiovascular and breast cancer health risks have created complex decision-making dilemmas for women suffering from hot flashes," Dormire said.

"These findings about potential risks of hormone use give new urgency to determine the physiologic basis of hot flashes," she said.

Dormire will examine how changes in blood glucose levels affect hot flash frequency. Her hypothesis is that hot flash frequency will increase when blood glucose is low and will be suppressed when blood glucose level is elevated.

"The loss of estrogen during menopause results is less efficient delivery of glucose to the brain," said Dormire, who also has studied the hot flash experience of diabetic women at menopause and memory changes at menopause.

Dormire also will look at hot flash differences in women of different body weight.

"Body fat has always been in debate when it comes to discussions of menopause and hot flashes," she said. "For a while, there was the theory that only thin women had hot flashes. This is not necessarily so."

Study participants will include women who are white, Hispanic, African American and normal weight, overweight and obese. Dormire can be reached at 512-471-7944 or by e-mail at sdormire@mail.nur.utexas.edu.

For more information contact: Nancy Neff, School of Nursing, 512-471-6504.