A sweeping new paper on the “life-changing” menopause by a UVA health expert and colleagues highlights the profound and sometimes surprising effects it can have on women’s lives, health, workplaces and even finances.
The paper presents a comprehensive review of what we know about menopause and what we still need to learn. Although it is primarily directed at doctors and scientists, it provides interesting insights into how menopause affects American women and women worldwide.
The article was co-authored by Joanne V. According to Pinkerton, MD, director of midlife health at UVA Health, such insights present important information for women, their physicians, policymakers and society at large.
“Hormonal changes during the menopause transition can be associated with physical and emotional symptoms including irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes and night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, sleep disturbances and brain fog. “Although all women go through menopause, less than 15% of them receive effective, individualized, evidence-based treatment for their symptoms,” said Pinkerton, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and executive director emeritus of the American Menopause Society. “Working with menopause experts from different countries, our paper summarizes what we know about menopause and calls for more research into menopause timelines and treatments. Menopause affects not only those going through it, but those who love them, live with them and Working with them affects them too.”
The researchers cited studies that found that moderate to severe menopausal symptoms are associated with decreased ability to perform work tasks, and that this decrease is often associated with poorer workplace outcomes for women affected by them — especially black and Hispanic women.
This particularly affects certain subgroups of women, including those without a partner, those who smoke, those who are overweight or obese, those who work as caregivers for others, and those who lack safe housing.
A study of women in the United Kingdom found that those struggling with menopausal symptoms were more likely to suffer from financial problems, depression and self-reported health problems, the researchers note.
The UK is far ahead of the US in addressing and reducing the impact of menopause on women in the workplace. We need to improve our care for menopausal women with individualized treatment options and address their needs in the workplace.”
Joan V. Pinkerton, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Virginia School of Medicine
Fortunately, effective treatment options are available, and the new scientific paper offers a review of the options that may be most appropriate for certain groups of patients. It also mentions a class of treatments that should be viewed with skepticism: “Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) for menopausal symptoms are frequently touted, widely advertised, and have an overall track record of effectiveness when subjected to strictures. “Scientific study,” experts note.
For example, popular phyto (plant) estrogen supplements have been extensively studied in numerous trials, but researchers say no benefit has been found. Black cohosh, another dietary supplement sometimes used to treat menopausal symptoms, has so far been found to be safe but has limited efficacy.
Pinkerton hopes the new paper will help women and their doctors sort fact from fiction when it comes to menopause, and that it will serve as an important roadmap for good health later in life. For women, “optimizing health during menopause is the gateway to healthy aging,” Pinkerton and her co-authors note.
“We now have effective hormonal and nonhormonal treatment options for women who are experiencing menopause or are at increased health risk because their estrogen levels have declined,” Pinkerton said. “For menopausal women, don’t suffer in silence – ask for help!” At UVA, we have menopause specialists to help navigate the menopause transition and beyond.”