A team led by Gita Mishra, a professor at the University of Queensland—in collaboration with the UK Medical Research Council—found the severity and range of health symptoms experienced through midlife formed into groups and distinct patterns, but only some of these, such as vasomotor symptoms ( hot flashes and cold or night sweats ) were related to the timing of the menopause. “Women who experienced only minimal symptoms before their last period were unlikely to develop severe symptoms later, while for others the timing of symptoms relative to menopause was key to understanding the likely duration of their symptoms,” Mishra says.
A study conducted in the UK used annual surveys from more than 600 women with natural menopause to identify four groups of symptoms: psychological (e.g., anxiety and depression), somatic (e.g., headaches and joint pain), vasomotor (e.g., hot flushes and night sweats ), and sexual discomfort. Women who had undergone hormone treatment or hysterectomies were excluded from the study.
Researchers found that by examining the timing and severity of symptoms, they were able to classify women according to different profiles for each group of symptoms.
For instance, with some women the severity of vasomotor symptoms increased leading up to menopause and then tended to decline, while for others whose vasomotor symptoms started and peaked later, symptoms were likely to last four years or more into postmenopause.
The UK study also found that women with higher education levels and social class were less likely to experience vasomotor symptoms than other women. The findings are reported in the BMJ.
The University of Queensland study, published in the journal Menopause, was based on multiple surveys of mid-age women from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. Mishra says that she was reassured that, in spite of differences in the surveys used, both studies had identified similar groups and profiles for the severity of symptoms experienced through the menopausal transition.
“While we would still like to see findings from other studies, we do think that symptom profiles are part of a move towards a more tailored approach—where health professionals can make a clearer assessment of what women can expect based on their history of symptoms—and this may be worthwhile not only in terms of reassurance but in selecting treatment options.”