Conventional wisdom believes that hot flashes typically last for just a few years. But hot flashes can continue for as long as 14 years, and the earlier they begin the longer a woman is likely to suffer from them, according to a study published on Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Not only is that much longer than previously thought typical, it’s also longer than the time limits that many doctors put on hormonal treatments for menopausal symptoms.
About 80 percent of women experience menopausal symptoms, and many say that their hot flashes and night sweats are moderate to severe, according to the study.
Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center at Wake Forest University analyzed data from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation.
They examined a racially, ethnically and geographically diverse group of 1,449 women transitioning to menopause. The study was conducted from 1996 through 2013.
Among those women who had frequent hot flashes, the median duration was 7.4 years, meaning half had symptoms longer and half had them for less time. Some were still having hot flashes even after 13 years.
The study also found that the length of menopausal symptoms aligned with when symptoms started.
Women who started getting symptoms while their periods were regular or hadn’t disappeared completely had frequent hot flashes and night sweats lasting more than 11 years on average.
Women whose symptoms appeared after their final period had the shortest duration of symptoms. These were 3.4 years on average.
Women with less education and greater levels of stress tended to have hot flashes last longer as well.
Researchers also found significant differences between ethnic groups.
African-American women experience symptoms longer than any other ethnic group, for a median of 10.1 years. On average, Chinese and Japanese women experienced symptoms for the shortest time, 5.4 and 4.8 years respectively. Symptoms tend to last 8.9 years for Hispanic women and 6.5 years for white women.
The reasons for the racial and ethnic differences are unknown.