For women undergoing menopause, trouble with forgetting names and the like is related to the hot flushes they're experiencing, researchers have shown.
The more hot flushes a woman had per day, on average, the worse her verbal memory, Dr Pauline M. Maki of the University of Illinois at Chicago and her colleagues found.
Maki and her team didn't rely only on the study participants' reports of whether they had hot flushes, but also used a technique called skin conductance that allowed them to objectively measure the abrupt rise in body temperature that accompanies this symptom.
"There seems to be a link between a physical hot flush, what's really happening inside a woman's body, and the memory complaints she is making as she's transitioning through the menopause," Maki told Reuters Health. "We don't think it's all in her head."
Forty-two percent of women report forgetfulness during and after menopause, she noted. To determine whether memory problems might be related to hot flushes, Maki and her team performed a battery of tests of cognitive function in 29 women, all of whom were experiencing at least 35 hot flushes weekly.
More hot flushes than thought
Monitoring revealed that the women were actually having many more hot flushes than they reported, according to the team's report in the journal Menopause.
Furthermore, the number of hot flushes women reported had no relationship to any measures of cognitive function, but the number as measured objectively was directly linked to performance on a test of verbal memory.
Nighttime hot flushes had a particularly strong relationship with memory function, Maki said, so loss of sleep could explain some of the memory impairment the women were experiencing - but not all of it.
Surge of cortisol
Hot flushes produce a surge of cortisol in the body, and higher levels of this hormone have been tied to worse verbal memory, she explained. She and her colleagues are now planning to investigate the relationship among cortisol, verbal memory, and hot flushes.
It's possible, according to the researcher, that repeated cortisol surges could put women at risk of worse memory decline and other ageing-associated brain changes.
Most women don't experience as many hot flushes as the women in the current study, Maki added, so the question of permanent memory impairment is not an issue. However, for those who do have frequent hot flushes, she added, the findings suggest that treating hot flushes early and effectively may not only make women more comfortable; it may protect their brains.
While long-term hormone replacement therapy is no longer considered safe, Maki noted, short term use is safe and effective for easing hot flushes.
SOURCE: Menopause, 2008. – (Reuters Health)
July , 2008