Women often don’t know as much as they should about the conditions leading up to menopause, according to an AARP national survey. Access to relevant health information could reduce the stigma of talking about the topic and improve the quality of life for women.
The poll of U.S. women ages 35 and over focused on perimenopause — the stage when hormone levels decline prior to menopause, which usually occurs 12 months after a woman’s last menstruation. The results showed that most women aren’t aware that conditions they may be experiencing in this time could be linked to perimenopause. The transition to menopause encompasses more than just hot flashes.
Some Conditions Are Familiar, Others Not
Survey participants were given a list of 28 conditions that can result from a decline in hormones caused by aging. Among the respondents, 84% knew at least one condition listed was linked to an age-related drop in hormones, but only 7% understood the potential connection to all. Almost a fifth (16%) did not know any of the conditions listed were linked to age-related hormonal changes, AARP discovered.
Among the conditions women were most likely to know were associated with perimenopause included hot flashes (63%), weight gain (62%), vaginal dryness (59%), night sweats (59%) and reduced libido (56%). Lesser-known conditions sometimes associated with declining hormone levels included acne (31%), heart palpitations (29%), itchy skin (25%), tingling extremities (21%), and burning tongue (13%). Awareness of most conditions was slightly higher among women ages 50-plus.
On average, women ages 35-plus reported experiencing six conditions often related to perimenopause. Yet nearly half (46%) said they had done nothing in response to the conditions they experienced. Many said they figured it was just part of aging so they took no action. Of those who did something, close to a quarter (23%) took medication, hormone replacements, vitamins or supplements, and/or applied creams, moisturizers, and patches. And almost as many (21%) made a lifestyle change such as increasing physical activity and/or improving their diet.
With more awareness of what to expect as they age, women may be empowered to ask for help in coping with the transition. Although some of the perimenopause conditions are less common, trustworthy resources should be available for women to consult, the AARP research suggests. Making the topic less taboo could also lead to more products and services available to support women and help them live more comfortably as they age.
The survey results indicate a major information gap and lack of preparedness among women ages 35-plus on the topic. Just 18% of those polled currently feel very informed about the impact of hormonal changes that come with aging, AARP found. It’s not that women aren’t eager to know more, with 57% feeling hormonal changes are not talked about enough. The survey also revealed that 58% would welcome more conversation about the physical aspects and 61% want more conversations about its impact on mental health.
Information Sources Vary
When they do seek out information, women say they are most likely to turn to their physicians or other health care providers (45%) and friends (41%), followed by relatives other than their mothers (28%), and then their mothers or mother figures (25%). African American and Black respondents, meanwhile, were more likely to speak with their mothers or mother figures (35%), compared to 24% of White women and 23% of Latinas.
Still, when women did discuss perimenopause issues, they were often disappointed with what they learned and wished the chats were more helpful. While just about four in 10 (38%) said the conversations with their physician or health care provider was “very helpful,” only three in 10 or fewer said conversations were very helpful with others: 31% with their mother, 25% with another relative, and 23% with a friend.
About one-third (31%) of women ages 35-plus have searched the internet to learn about declining hormone levels, and 37% have searched for specific information about the impacts of perimenopause or menopause, according to AARP.
The online survey, conducted from September 24 to October 4, 2020, included 1,400 women in the U.S. ages 35 and over. Data were weighted by age, Census region, race/ethnicity, income and marital status to be nationally representative.
Thayer, Colette, and Cheryl Lampkin. There Is More to Perimenopause Than Hot Flashes, Washington, DC: AARP Research, May 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00431.001