Do you ever wonder why you suffer terribly from symptoms of menopause while your best friend hardly notices hers? It’s not your imagination: women experience menopause very differently.
In fact, 25% of women don’t feel or experience menopause-related symptoms. As for the remaining 75%? They sure do … but with varying degrees of intensity.
“Humans actually aren’t supposed to live past their reproductive years. Women experience menopause because modern medicine has enabled us to live longer,” explains Virtua OB/GYN and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy provider Colleen McCleery, MD, FACOG.
Yet despite 30 years of research, she says: “Scientists don’t fully understand why some women don’t experience menopause symptoms or how they occur.”
Racial and Ethnic Disparities
Doctors are left to attempt educated guesses culled from their own research and patient analysis. Based on her own observations and study, Dr. McCleery believes there’s some difference when it comes to race, with African Americans and Caucasians generally experiencing more symptoms than Asians.
Recent scientific findings support her hypotheses. For instance, a 2010 study published by the School of Nursing at the University of Texas found, like others had before it, that Asian women experience the fewest total number of physical, psychological, and psychosomatic symptoms while African-American women endure the most.
Some scientists have tried to explain these findings by studying factors like body-mass index, hormone production, incidence of coronary disease and onset of first period. For the most part, their results are proving inconclusive.
Physical and Social Factors
What they are discovering is that other -- sometimes surprising -- factors exert their own measurable influence.
These include income, education, employment, and whether the woman is taking medication or has had a hysterectomy. What’s more, earlier studies also have discovered statistically significant correlations between menopausal symptoms and smoking, diet, exercise, body type, number of children, and even mental illness, marital satisfaction and quality of interpersonal relationships.
Mental illness? Marital satisfaction? What could these seemingly unrelated external social forces have to do with menopause? As it turns out, potentially a lot.
“How a woman experiences symptomatology or reports them is greatly influenced by a multitude of variables inclusive of race, ethnicity and other psychosocial factors,” reported Seminars in Reproductive Medicine in 2013. “Her ability to manage symptoms associated with this life transition affects her quality of life.”
In other words, psychological well-being and healthy relationships don’t necessarily determine the severity or frequency of symptoms, but they can help ease the pain and suffering they cause.
Therefore, the report continues: “Strengthening women's ability to manage symptoms during the menopausal transition in culturally competent ways is imperative for the health and well-being of more than 40 million midlife women in the United States.”
Managing Your Own Symptoms
What if you’re one of the unlucky ones with severe symptoms? Here are some tips to reduce hot flashes:
- Try to avoid anxiety or stressful events or people.
- Stay away from stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine.
- Limit alcohol (especially red wine), hot drinks or spicy foods.
- Stay out of crowded rooms or those that lack air circulation.
- Build in a cool-down period to any activity that heats the body up.
And here’s what to do when you feel a hot flash coming on:
- Sleep in a cool room.
- Dress in layers so you can remove clothes as needed.
- Drink a glass of cold water or juice.
- Wear breathable fabrics and sleep with cotton sheets.
- Don’t smoke.