Menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats have the biggest impact on quality of life for women in their early-to-mid-50s, a small U.S. study suggests.
Women age 60 or older had better overall quality of life scores and fewer complaints about memory problems and physical symptoms, researchers report in Maturitas, but they still had issues like sexual dysfunction, fatigue and mood swings.
“This study emphasizes the need for clinicians to initiate conversations with women about sexual health and psychosocial changes associated with aging,” said senior study author Dr. Carolyn Torkelson of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
“Women are living healthy, productive lives many years beyond menopause, thereby creating a demand for services that are unique to this population,” Torkelson said by email.
Women go through menopause when they stop menstruating, which typically happens between ages 45 and 55. As the ovaries curb production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone in the years leading up to menopause and afterwards, women can experience symptoms ranging from vaginal dryness to mood swings, joint pain, memory trouble and insomnia.
For the study, researchers examined data from questionnaires completed by 932 women in Minnesota who were part of a larger trial examining whether green tea extract influences the odds of developing breast cancer.
Women in the study were about 60 years old on average. Most of them were white, and they were typically a healthy weight or just slightly overweight.
Overall, participants under age 55 reported more night sweats and hot flashes than their older counterparts.
These younger women in the study also reported increased severity of changes in sexual desire.
Older women, meanwhile, reported less severe symptoms for physical problems like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, weight gain and changes in appearance.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how menopause symptoms impact quality of life.
Beyond its small size and the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among the study participants, another drawback is that participants were typically healthier and better educated than the average U.S. woman.
While these limitations mean the results may not apply to a more diverse population of women, the findings still add to the evidence that menopause can impact quality of life, said Dr. Susan Davis, a researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“It is well established that menopausal symptoms peak during the early postmenopausal years,” Davis said by email.
Given the broad variety of ways that menopause and aging can impact women’s daily lives, it’s essential for doctors to ask patients directly about symptoms that patients may not necessarily bring up like sexual dysfunction or bladder issues, said Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a researcher at Yale Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Most women do associate hot flashes with menopause, and some blame just about everything on menopause, like a 40-pound weight gain, which is highly unlikely to be a strictly menopausal issue,” Minkin said by email.
“Most surveys show that most women do not talk about vaginal dryness, which is a significant issue for most women,” Minkin added. “And unfortunately, associated with the vaginal dryness are bladder symptoms, like recurrent urinary tract infections, which neither the patient nor the provider often associate with menopause.”