Every woman goes through menopause.
But the symptoms that come with it like hot flashes vary greatly from person to person. When side effects strike, and how long they last, seem arbitrary and impossible to predict - some start early, some start late, some last two years, some last 15.
However, a new study has outlined four distinct categories that all women supposedly fit into based on their race, weight, and dietary habits. The research by the University of Pittsburgh has been hailed as a breakthrough which could have a dramatic impact on the way menopausal symptoms - known as vasomotor symptoms - are treated.
WHICH GROUP DO YOU FIT INTO?
1 FEW SYMPTOMS
Chinese women had a consistently low chance of debilitating symptoms throughout the menopause transition.
2 SYMPTOMS LAST LONGER
Black women, those with less education, heavy drinkers and those who reported depression or anxiety had a higher chance of symptoms all the way through the decade.
3 SYMPTOMS HIT EARLY
Early onset symptoms at the start of the transition period were most common among obese women, women with depression or anxiety, women in poor health, and women who start menopause later.
4 SYMPTOMS HIT LATE
And late onset symptoms were most common in skinnier women, smokers and black women. Most women get vasomotor symptoms, and we used to think these symptoms lasted from three to five years, right around the time of the final menstrual period,' senior author Rebecca Thurston, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, said. 'We now know that these symptoms persist for far longer - typically seven to 10 years - and occur at different times for different women.
This is strong evidence that we need to further investigate the underlying physiological causes of vasomotor symptoms and their link to potentially preventable health conditions. Menopause, when a woman stops menstruating, typically occurs at some point between the ages of 45 and 55.
The experience is linked to hot flashes and night sweats caused by sudden flushes of heat. These symptoms are the result of a decrease in estrogen and progesterone produced by the ovaries. Other symptoms include vaginal dryness, mood swings, and insomnia.
For the study, published in Menopause, the team followed 1,455 women enrolled in the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN) who were yet to start menopause. None of them were on HRT and none of them had had a hysterectomy. Each year, the women described the vasomotor symptoms they had experienced. They also had annual clinical exams and blood tests.
After 15 years of testing, the researchers concluded certain factors led to different side effects.
Chinese women had a consistently low chance of debilitating symptoms throughout the menopause transition. Black women, those with less education, heavy drinkers and those who reported depression or anxiety had a much higher chance of severe symptoms all the way through the decade-long period.
Early onset symptoms at the start of the transition period were most common among obese women, women with depression or anxiety, women in poor health, and women who start menopause later. And late onset symptoms were most common in skinnier women, smokers and black women.
'It's fascinating that we can distinguish these unique patterns and then pinpoint specific characteristics associated with each of these trajectories,' says coauthor Maria M. Brooks, professor of epidemiology and associate professor of biostatistics.
'When we see patterns like this, it indicates that there's something going on beyond hot flashes and night sweats being a passing nuisance. Depending on which category a woman falls into, there may be important implications regarding her health.'