More evidence menopause symptoms may affect overall wellbeing

Women who experience moderate to severe menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats are more likely to suffer from poor overall wellbeing, an Australian study suggests.

Researchers examined the severity and impact of hot flashes and night sweats among roughly 1,300 women aged 40 to 65 and found just 11 percent described them as bothersome and moderate or severe. But the worst and most persistent symptoms were linked to significantly worse overall psychological general wellbeing.

Other factors that independently impacted wellbeing included being single, obese and a current smoker, while paid or unpaid work was associated with better wellbeing.

“Having moderate-severity bothersome vasomotor symptoms had a more negative effect on wellbeing than obesity and was nearly as bad as housing insecurity,” said senior study author Susan Davis, a women’s health researcher at Monash University in Melbourne. “This demonstrates how badly menopausal flushes and sweats can affect a woman’s quality of life.”

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, women can experience symptoms ranging from irregular periods and vaginal dryness to mood swings and insomnia.

Davis and colleagues focused on what’s known as vasomotor symptoms of menopause, which include hot flashes and night sweats. These symptoms may last around 4.5 years after menstruation stops, or much longer in some women who start experiencing them at a younger age, the researchers note in the journal Maturitas.

On average, women in the study were around 53 years old. Most of them were white, had at least a high school education, at least one child and lived in metropolitan areas.

The majority of the women were married or in a committed relationship, and most of them either owned homes outright or had a mortgage. About two thirds of them had paid or volunteer jobs.

Researchers received questionnaires from 2,020 women in the age range for the study. Their final analysis relied on responses from 1,524 women, excluding participants taking psychiatric medications or who didn’t complete a questionnaire about wellbeing.

Among a subset of 1,327 women who reported bothersome vasomotor symptoms, about 89 percent characterized these as nonexistent or mild.

To assess wellbeing, researchers asked about how positive women felt and how satisfied they were with their lives, as well as negative moods and emotions.

Older women reported higher wellbeing scores than younger women in the study, and women who worked in paid or volunteer positions also had higher scores.

Scores were significantly lower for women reporting moderate or severely bothersome symptoms, as compared with women who had few difficulties with vasomotor complications. Women with severe symptoms had wellbeing scores of 69, compared with 79 for those without serious difficulties.

One limitation of the study is that it can’t prove vasomotor symptoms impair wellbeing. It’s possible that people less satisfied with their lives might also find symptoms to be worse than their happier peers, the researchers acknowledge.

Even so, the findings add to a growing body of evidence linking vasomotor symptoms to wellbeing, said Steriani Elavsky, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University in University Park who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Suffering from menopausal symptoms has been linked to poor daily functioning, negative mood, poor sleep, and lower quality of life,” Elavsky said by email. “The link between menopausal symptoms and poor wellbeing has been the most consistent among samples of women with severe symptoms or other clinical problems.”

Women with severe symptoms may take hormones for effective short term relief, but many women are reluctant to do so because of side effects including a higher risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots, Elavsky said.

Cognitive behavioral therapy or acceptance and commitment therapy may also help women to engage in their lives regardless of their symptoms, said Mary Politi, a public health researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“We might not be able to reduce the frequency of hot flashes or night sweats, but we can help women reduce how much those hot flashes or night sweats interfere with their goals and daily life,” Politi, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.