Hot flushes suffered by menopausal women could be caused by abnormalities in the function of blood vessels, new research has suggested.
The flushes affect more than 75% of women going through the menopause and leave some unwilling to leave the house.
Wellbeing of Women, a charity which funded the study, hopes the findings could lead to new treatments for the problem, offering an alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy.
Under normal circumstances, if the body temperature rises, the blood vessels under the skin dilate in order to lose heat, leading to reddening of the skin and sweating. In women with hot flushes, this can occur at the smallest provocation or seemingly for no reason at all.
Mary Ann Lumsden, Professor of Medical Education and Gynaecology at the University of Glasgow, believes patients who experience severe hot flushes may actually have an abnormality in the function of the blood vessels.
She compared women who experience hot flushes with those who do not, studying the peripheral blood vessels in patients' arms.
Until now, doctors have worked on the assumption that the brain is responsible for hot flushes. When over-heating occurs, it sends signals to the body to "lose heat" by dilating blood vessels and producing sweat.
However, Prof Lumsden's new findings suggest abnormalities in the blood vessels themselves may also contribute to the overactive response seen in many menopausal women.
She said: "My team and I have found that the blood vessels of women who get hot flushes dilate much more easily than those that don't, and that they became less 'reactive' when a drug such as serotonin is prescribed. What's fascinating is that it appears to be the blood vessels themselves rather than what goes on in the brain that actually causes hot flushes."
The researchers also found that patients who are prone to hot flushes have more risk factors for heart disease. The research has been carried out over the last four years.
If you're suffering from menopausal symptoms, take a look at these simple ways to tackle the dreaded hot flushes.