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Portuguese women and menopause

Is it possible to create a menopause profile? Researchers in Portugal did just that to discover health characteristics and understand the menopausal impact on an aging population. With a median age of 42.3 for females, Portugal as the rest of Europe faces an aging population and subsequent increase in demand for healthcare services.

Any sample study produces a snapshot of a given moment. Yet despite the limitations, researchers gain important insights into the population’s medical state. Clinicians surveyed 100 Portuguese women and established a report that confirmed the usual expectations associated with aging and menopause, as well as key quality of life aspects.

The women taking part in the survey ranged in age from 42 to 91, with an average age of 63.5. Women going through menopause were between the ages of 42 and 57, making the average age of 50.6 close to the benchmark age of 51 years.

Participants varied in marital status; 47% were married, 45 % widowed, and 8% divorced. Just under half (45%) claimed that they exercised at least three times a week.

The majority of women admitted to getting little or no exercise as only 15% participated in occasional physical activity while the remaining 40% rarely or never exercised. This explains the high 65% obesity rate and reflects the alarming trend of weight gain in many Western countries. Lack of exercise and obesity are linked to increased rates of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and overall poor health. This exacerbates many menopausal difficulties.

Doctors recorded that 98% of menopausal women complained of having symptoms. Not surprisingly, the most commonly reported were vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats (80.2%), sleep disorders (64.8%), loss of bladder control (53.1%), depression (40.1%), anxiety (34.7%), difficulty with concentration and memory (40.3%), and loss of libido (35.5%).

Despite the widespread menopausal symptoms, only 40% of the women said that there were taking or had taken some form of hormone replacement therapy during their lives for an average of about six years. The reasons for not taking hormones were not investigated. But there may be a psychological disconnect between menopause, lifestyle, and health concerns.

Returning to those women who had trouble sleeping, over half (53.8%) sought relief by taking sleep medication. Women were desperate to deal with sleep difficulties that interfered with daily life, but elected to try the prescription route versus hormones or lifestyle modifications.

Confusion over the advantages and disadvantages of hormone therapy still contributes to women’s tendencies to avoid this treatment option. But are women better off without hormones? Researchers noted that for menopausal women, quality of life fell into three categories with a third of women reporting their quality of life as good (35%), fair (30%), and poor (35%).

Hormones may or not be the answer for everyone, but the study also showed that women taking hormone therapy reported having a better quality of life. Almost three quarters of respondents said quality of life was good (67%) and even excellent (17%). A further 17% talked of a poor life quality while none of the women said their life was poor.

None of these findings will surprise any woman dealing with menopause. Nevertheless, studies focused on women’s health and menopause help increase awareness of the challenges many societies face with aging populations demanding better healthcare.

Vilhena, Vera (PT) – Centro Hospitalar de Setubal, Rubina Mendonca, Isabel Matos, ‘Menopausal population – a characterization study’ as presented at the 13th International Menopause Congress, Rome 2011.

Menopause, Your Doctor, and You

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