Imagine being so hot at the office to be visibly sweating in a routine meeting. Or envision waking up in a pool of sweat without having a fever. Now, think about enduring 7 to 14 years of it disrupting activities every day. Welcome to menopause, which new research shows can last women up to 14 years, particularly the miserable hot flashes.
Most people – and their doctors – believed for decades that hot flashes, which affect 80 percent of women in late middle age, only last a few years. However, as baby boomers aged and supplied anecdotal evidence and researchers began to study women’s health, they found out that women suffer symptoms of menopause for a lot longer.
Just published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the results from the largest study to date show that 7.4 years was the median length of time for menopause symptoms. So half of the women were affected for a shorter period of time, but the rest experienced symptoms for many more years, with some twice as long, researchers reported.
The information came out of the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), an observational study of the menopause experience of more than 3,300 women at seven U.S. sites from February 1996 through April 2013. The group was ethnically, racially and geographically diverse, and on average the women visited 13 times. All of the women followed met the study definition for having frequent symptoms: having experienced hot flashes or night sweats in at least six days within the last two weeks. None of those studied had had a hysterectomy or both ovaries removed. Additionally, none were on hormone therapy, which would have affected the results.
Based on the experiential evidence, 1,449 of the women had frequent hot flashes or night sweats during the almost two decade long study. The average length of time the women endured the symptoms was almost seven and one-half years. The study found that the earlier in life the hot flashes started the longer they lasted.
It also made a difference whether the hot flashes or night sweats starting before the women stopped menstruating. One in eight women in the study began getting hot flashes while still having regular periods. For two-thirds of them, their periods were becoming scant then symptoms started. If the hot flashes started before their periods stopped, the menopause symptoms lasted much longer than if they started after the women’s final period. In fact, they were nearly three times the length of time for women whose sweating did not start until after their periods had stopped.
The research did show racial and other demographic differences in menopausal experience. African-American and Hispanic women suffered from hot flashes for significantly longer periods than white or Asian women did. The researchers found that women with less formal education also experienced a longer menopause.
Furthermore, the research shows differences for women suffering from depression, anxiety or high stress; they had longer-lasting menopause symptoms. However, it was not clear whether the mental health issues led to longer symptoms or the longer menopause exacerbated their stress, anxiety or depression. Of course, menopause symptoms that last up to 14 years can depress or stress anyone.
By Dyanne Weiss