For years, the debate has been whether menopause symptoms are either physical or psychological. Or does the truth lie somewhere in between? Women struggled for years to convince doctors that menopause was not just a hysterical women’s disease, but rather a little known but all too real female body transition.
Yet medical researchers still look to clues that might explain why for some women menopause is a difficult experience and less severe for others. Are there other societal factors that affect whether or not women have menopausal symptoms and the degree of severity? A recent study conducted in Scotland points to some findings that indicate why some women sail through menopause while others navigate through some very rough waters.
The goal of the study was to determine whether certain factors prevalent in many mid-life women might play a role in some of the classic menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and genital dryness.
Researchers mailed a questionnaire to 8,000 women in Scotland who were between the ages of 45-54. Just over half of the women, 4,407, responded. The questions focused on menopause symptoms and a number of additional lifestyle factors.
Based on the results, women in Scotland reported having the following menopausal symptoms:
*Tiredness – 81.4%
*Aches and pains – 68%
*Difficulty sleeping – 63.1%
*Hot flashes – 46.7%
*Night sweats – 46.4%
*Genital dryness – 28.2%
These symptoms are common for many women around the world and hardly seem surprising. Researchers included further questions to learn if there were any causations or correlations between some lifestyle factors and menopause. Researchers are not looking for a way to blame patients or to dismiss menopause, but to see if possible treatments for other health issues may lessen the severity of menopause or even its occurrence in some women.
Hot flashes – where is the heat?
Researchers found that for many women who reported having hot flashes, there were some interesting associations. These women tended to have lower educational levels, were more likely to be obese, had little or no social support, experienced night sweats, and had menstrual difficulties and a low libido. The women least likely to deal with hot flashes tended to seek out alternative therapies, made their own lifestyle changes (sleeping in a cool room for example), and discussed their menopause issues with family and friends.
Night sweats – what is keeping women up at night?
As for the night sweats, some of the most common factors were smoking, having sleep difficulties as well as a low libido. Similarly, women who sought out alternative therapies and adopted lifestyle changes reported fewer problems with menopause.
Genital dryness - what is happening?
Most of the respondents noted that they were postmenopausal, had higher levels of education, enjoyed a strong social network, and had a below average overall health diagnosis. Additionally, hot flashes, sleep issues, and a low libido were reported.
So what does this tell us?
The results of the study are as perplexing as menopause itself. Many of the factors appear to relate to one menopause symptom. At the same time, there are many contradictions; does a woman with a higher or lower level of education experience an easier or a more difficult menopause? The relationship is not very clear. Yet smoking and being overweight may contribute to more severe symptoms, or the symptoms being present in the first place.
Menopause in Scotland is not very different from other areas. But this study brings to light how the variations of factors and symptoms require further medical research into women’s health issues and the aging process. The menopause story is not a one-size fits all model as was previously thought. Instead, menopause is as unique as each woman is. Treatment options must also reflect a patient’s individuality. Our Scottish sisters show us that women everywhere need and deserve to have their health and their menopause taken seriously.
‘Prevalence of, and factors associated with “classic” menopausal symptoms in middle aged women living in Scotland’ – Duffy OOnagh (Great Britain) – University of Aberdeen, as presented at the IMS 13th World Congress on Menopause in Rome, 2011.
Be sure to include your results in Menopause, Your Doctor, and You and keep your health history current!