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Menopause multi-ethnic study

Menopause affects women no matter where they live or what their ethnic background. For years menopause research has been limited and little attention paid to finding ways to help women understand and deal with menopause.

Fortunately attitudes among healthcare professionals are changing as more time and money are devoted to understanding what happens during the change.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Eun-Ok Im at the University of Texas at Austin was one of the first of its kind to study menopause among various ethnicities. Im decided the time had come to look at the differences and similarities among women undergoing menopause. Her findings reveal that some groups report differences regarding menopausal symptoms and attitudes towards menopause.

North American researchers slowly started to focus on menopause as a natural condition and not as a disease. But the problem was that most studies were not representative of the many different ethnic backgrounds of North American women. Research conducted mainly on white American women did little to help African-American, Asian or Hispanic women. This is where Im’s research aimed at correcting this bias to understand how women view menopause and why.

Im’s four year study included 512 women divided into equal groups of four to include whites, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians. The women, aged 40 to 60, reported their menopausal symptoms and attitudes toward menopause over the Internet. This was a rare opportunity to learn about how different ethnic groups viewed menopause. White women saw menopause as ‘the end of life’ while their visible minority sisters looked at menopause as a time of transition and renewal.

Multi-ethnic menopause research findings:

*Both African-American (67.8%) and white women (64.4%) complained about having the dreaded hot flashes, followed by Hispanic women (52.5%). Asian women in America reported the lowest hot flash occurrences (26.1%). This may be due in part that more women of Asian descent follow a diet rich in soy but this is slowly changing in North America. Note that only until recently did the Japanese for example even have a word for hot flashes.

*Weight gain during menopause was reported by 54.6% of African-American women, 50.8% for Hispanic women, 45% for white women, and 33.3% for Asian women. This may again be due to dietary habits and lifestyle tendencies.

*White women were more likely to complain about having what the experts call vasomotor symptoms, or symptoms that relate to the nerves and muscles. These are wide-ranging symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, breast pain, pronounced sadness, irritability, insomnia, muscle and joint pain, and difficulty with concentration. Many of these symptoms are typically attributed not only to menopause but to the North American fast-paced lifestyle and youth-obsession.

Im notes that her research showed white women were more likely think of menopause in terms of loss rather than gain.

At the same time, white women (60%) were more likely to be taking some type of menopause treatment including traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and natural alternatives. What does this tell us?

The fact that more white women were seeking therapies indicates more willingness to find a ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ of menopause. Intentionally or unintentionally (depending on where you sit) the medical community made menopause seem more of a white woman’s dilemma. Im points out that the African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians looked to their communities and families for support, believing that healthcare professionals had little time or interest for menopause in visible minorities. Im is correct as she notes very little research has been done that includes a variety of women. With little support seen from the medical community, many women chose simply to deal with menopause on their own.

Women belonging to visible minorities were usually dealing with so many other social and economical matters that menopause was not seen as a massive change. Rather, menopause was just another thing to deal with. How important is a hot flash when you are dealing with other challenges?

This multi-ethnic menopause research study means good news for women of all backgrounds. By learning more about how menopause affects all women, women everywhere benefit from a greater understanding of the positive and negative aspects about menopause. Greater awareness about menopause and culture is not meant to categorize menopause along ethnic lines. Instead, menopause is finally being seen as a part of, not the end of, women’s lives.

This study is a must read and you will find the article about Dr. Eun-Ok Im’s work at this link: www.utexas.edu/news/2010/07/27/menopause_research
Her full study was recently published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research.

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