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07/16/2013 01:33 pm ET

What Causes Hot Flashes? New Study Points To The Nervous System

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Everyone knows menopausal hot flashes aren't a symptom of blazing summer days. Rather, hot flashes generate from within the body on freezing and sizzling hot days alike. But what exactly causes hot flashes and where within the body do they start? These are tough questions for scientists, and answers are just starting to develop.

New research in Cerebral Cortex, an Oxford University Press journal indicates that hot flashes generate in the brain stem. Researchers from the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development made this discovery by observing research participants in MRI scanners wearing two body-size heating pads for up to two hours until the start of a hot flash. The 20 participants ranged in age from 47 to 58 and all reported six or more daily hot flashes. The MRI scans revealed that activity in the brain stem rises right before a hot flash.

The results of the study could have critical implications to both medicine and technology. "We think that our study highlights the value of using well-designed MRI paradigms and analyses in understanding clinically relevant questions," one of the researchers, Vaibhav Diwadkar told Science Daily. The researchers are also exploring whether pharmacotherapies for menopause might effect brain responses.

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