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Women’s knowledge of long-term effects of menopause remains poor: new study reveals

Research 28 Jul 2020
Middle aged woman

There is a “concerning” lack of knowledge among women about the long-term effects of menopause on their health, such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, according to a new Melbourne study.

Further, many women still hold negative attitudes towards menopausal hormone therapy (MHT), despite its broad effectiveness and safety.

The study, led by the Women’s Health Research Program at Monash University, says the knowledge gaps among women “urgently need to be addressed to enable women to make informed health choices” around the management of menopausal symptoms.

Menopause is defined as the final menstrual period. Most women in Australia reach menopause between the age of 45-55 years, with the average age of menopause 51-52 years.

Researchers found that while women had a good understanding of the immediate effects of menopause – that they no longer had periods, could no longer fall pregnant and may get hot flushes and mood swings – few understood the long-term health impacts of menopause

Professor Susan Davis, who led the study, said she was “shocked that almost nobody” among the participants mentioned osteoporosis.

Women are at greater risk of osteoporosis, or brittle bones, after menopause due to the drop in their levels of the hormone oestrogen, which plays a role in bone health. “And certainly no one mentioned cardiovascular disease, changes in cholesterol levels, cognitive changes – they didn’t appear to have any appreciation of the metabolic effects of menopause,” said Prof Davis.

The fall in oestrogen around menopause also contributes to increased abdominal fat in women, which is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the number-one cause of death of women in Australia as well as diabetes, breast and colon cancer.

The study – ‘Australian women’s understanding of menopause and its consequences: a qualitative study’ – was published in the Climacteric medical journal. This research was funded by an NHMRC Partnership Project Grant (No. 1152778). The study’s 32 participants were aged from 46 to 69 years, and ranged from pre-menopausal to late postmenopausal. The women were invited from a larger cohort recruited about five years ago, and chosen from a diverse range of urban, rural and remote locations.

“So, although this is not a large number of women, they were selected to ensure a diversity of views,” Prof Davis said.

Prof Davis was surprised about the women’s views of MHT, that it was “something you only do if your back’s against the wall”.

“They don’t even feel like they should be going to their doctor about [menopause],” Prof Davis said. “They are not confident that their GP can help them.”

Professor Susan Davis

The main concern of five of the study’s 10 premenopausal women about MHT was the risk of cancer and using ”synthetic stuff”, even though more recent evidence has proven MHT is safe for most women – and there is still no evidence for the efficacy of complementary medicine in treating menopausal symptoms.

“Once you get a negative belief in someone’s brain, it’s very hard to change it,” Prof Davis said.

About Jean Hailes

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health is a national not-for-profit organisation. We have a unique model, built on four pillars: education and knowledge exchange; clinical care; research; and policy. We aim to translate the latest scientific and medical evidence to help inspire positive change in women and girls by improving their physical health and wellbeing. Jean Hailes produces evidence-based information reviewed by clinicians. In 2016, Jean Hailes was officially recognised as the Federal Government’s national digital gateway for women’s health.

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For more information on Jean Hailes or to interview Prof Davis, please contact Janelle Carrigan on 0409 939 920 or email [email protected]