Guest Author - Tammy Elizabeth Southin
Any menopausal woman knows about menopause symptoms and their impact on daily life. But is it menopause making quality of life worse? Or is it the quality of life that adds to menopause misery?
Ongoing research shows that while some healthcare providers point to menopause as the cause of an unhappy middle age, other caregivers believe that the overall health picture means the difference between suffering or thriving during the change.
The most common menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, genital dryness and other similar conditions resulting from fluctuating hormone levels that upset normal blood flow and body temperature controls. For the purposes of this article, vasomotor symptoms will be noted simply as menopause symptoms.
Researchers in Latin America examined this subject as part of a menopause awareness project in a study spanning over 12 countries. The women selected represented 22 healthcare centers in all 12 countries. Participants totalling 8,373 women ranged in age from 40 to 59. Using the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS) researchers tallied up women’s menopausal status and reported symptoms.
The next step checked into any underscoring lifestyle patters among the women to determine whether menopause symptoms affected a woman’s quality of life or vice versa. Plus what more could the study show about the uniqueness of menopause for Latin American women, if any such signs were present?
The average age of the women in the study was recorded as 49 years. Of all the participants, almost half (48.8%) were postmenopausal or not having had a menstrual period for at least a full 12 months. A small number of women, 14.7% indicated they were using some form or hormone replacement therapy.
Overall, 54.5% of the women reported having menopause symptoms. Premenopausal women (37.1%) said they had symptoms; the numbers jumped to 58.9% in perimenopausal women, and to 68.5% in early postmenopause. In later postmenopausal years, the number of women complaining of symptoms decreased to 60.6%, which is a larger number than anticipated.
A small number of the women on the cusp of menopause (5.5%) said that their menopause symptoms were severe and greatly affected their lives with the number rising to 10.8% for perimenopausal women who experience the greatest hormone level changes. Not surprisingly, the women who experienced severe symptoms were also most likely to be taking hormone therapy.
Once the basics emerge, researchers noticed additional criteria showed up in women dealing with troublesome symptoms. These women tended to report having increased psychological problems, urogenital health issues, and lower levels of education.
Were then the burdens of having existing health issues making the menopause symptoms more unbearable? One theory is that having a poor quality of life affected the severity of symptoms; improve overall health and you help manage menopause symptoms. Another correlation reiterated what many believe to be the scourge of low education levels and people having less access to information and decision-making abilities.
One interesting factor emerged. Many of the participants lived at higher levels of altitude (greater than 2500 meters or just over 8200 feet above sea level). Could the thinner oxygen levels impact blood flow and circulation, which in turn affect the related menopause symptoms? This topic was not examined at length but provides insight into geographical location and health including menopause.
Overall Latin American women reported high incidences of menopause symptoms well into the postmenopausal years, as much as 5 years after the last menstrual period. Whether quality of life, high altitudes, or menopause is the catalyst in middle age and beyond, the study demonstrated how all three interact with each other. Future healthcare education for women is crucial to maintaining a thriving aging population, and reminds women everywhere that menopause is a complex physical and emotional but completely natural life transition.
Blumel Juan Enrique et al (CL) Universidad to Chile, for the Collaborative Group for Research of the Climacteric in Latin America -Prevalence, duration and impact over quality of live in vasomotor symptoms in middle-aged women of a large multinational study, as presented at the 13th Congress on Menopause, Rome 2011.