New studies on menopause throw better light on women’s sexual desire, sleep issues and symptom management

Hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats, sleep problems, weight gain and vaginal dryness are just some of the symptoms associated with menopause that plague most women.

Myupchar September 29, 2020 15:58:06 IST
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New studies on menopause throw better light on women’s sexual desire, sleep issues and symptom management

Decoding menopause complexes. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Menopause is that phase of a woman’s life when there’s a natural decline in reproductive hormones and her menstrual cycle stops - and thus it marks the end of her fertility. The changes that women go through during menopause are usually divided into three parts: perimenopause (beginning of the transition into menopause), menopause (12 consecutive months without a menstrual period) and postmenopause (when the symptoms of menopause begin to subside and a new normal, natural life starts).

Because menopause is a phase of intense change and has as immense an impact on women’s health as the beginning of menstruation does, a lot of research is conducted to understand it better and to aid the transition of women from premenopause to postmenopause phases. Some current studies into menopause are now being presented at the 2020 virtual Annual Meeting of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) and will soon be published in the upcoming edition of Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society. Here’s a quick overview of the most relevant ones.

The importance of sex for ageing women

It’s a widely-held belief that, unlike male sexual desire, the female sexual desire tends to decrease as a woman enters and makes her way through midlife. This is often linked to a decrease in reproductive hormones and fertility. But new research based on the data provided by the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, USA, suggests that a significant number of women continue to highlight the importance of sex throughout midlife, and especially throughout the menopause transition. The study, which included 3,200 women, evaluated how factors like race, education, body mass index, blood pressure, hormone and menopause status, sexual satisfaction, vaginal dryness and hot flashes affected a woman’s interest in sex.

The researchers found that sex was considered highly important for 27 percent of the women throughout their midlife. For 45 percent of the women, sex held a place of value early in midlife, although it became less so over time. It was only 28 percent of the women that thought sex was of low importance during the menopause transition. The study found that women of Southeast Asian origin and those with depression symptoms usually fell under this last category, suggesting that better awareness and education, lack of stigma attached to sex and good mental health are key parameters that need to be considered for the sexual health and better transition of menopausal women.

Sleep problems during menopause

Sleep is known to regulate hormonal and brain function in the body and many women going through menopause tend to report sleep disturbances and problems. A study by University of Pittsburgh researchers found that women who endured trauma during childhood and/or early adulthood were more likely to suffer from sleep problems during menopause. The study included 166 women aged 40 to 60 years and their sleep patterns were studied over five years.

Of these participants, 44 percent had reported childhood trauma while 60 percent reported trauma during adulthood. While both groups of participants reported sleep problems, the researchers discovered that those who experienced childhood trauma reported waking up after the onset of sleep while the other group experienced overall poor sleep quality. Neither type of trauma was associated with poor sleep duration. This study highlights the fact that women who have endured trauma need proper sleep therapy and care during the menopause transition.

New therapies for menopause symptoms

Hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats, sleep problems, weight gain and vaginal dryness are just some of the symptoms associated with menopause that plague most women. Though most women manage these symptoms with home remedies, hormone therapy is considered to be the most effective method of managing them.

New research from the Yale School of Medicine indicates that the use of estrogens along with selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) to replace progesterone may be more effective in mitigating symptoms like hot flashes than estrogens alone. Fetal estrogens like estetrol and estriol may be weaker than estradiol, an estrogen steroid hormone but their use has fewer side-effects and better outcomes for cardiovascular health.

Another avenue of menopause therapy that’s quickly gaining popularity in the US as legislation against its use is relaxed, is marijuana. A study, based in Northern California with 232 participants from the Midlife Women Veterans Health Survey, found that 27 percent of the women reported having used or were currently using cannabis to manage their bothersome menopausal symptoms, while another 10 percent expressed interest in trying cannabis to manage menopause. This study indicates that there’s a huge need to explore cannabis use for menopause therapy further and especially to understand if there are any side-effects attached to it. As large sections of North America and Europe legalise cannabis for chronic health issues, its relevance for menopause treatments must be understood better.

For more information, read our article on Menopause.

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