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Women can suffer menopause hot flashes for more than a decade, study finds

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It's well known that four out of every five middle-aged women deal with hot flashes, night sweats and other difficult symptoms of menopause. New research finds those symptoms often last a great deal longer than conventional wisdom had it.

    It comes from the largest study of its kind done so far of more than 3,300 women. It concluded that the median duration for hot flashes lasted seven years, and that in some cases symptoms can last as long as 14 years. Moreover, the problems were worse for some women of color.

    The median duration was 10 years for African-American women and almost nine years for Latinas.

    Nancy Avis is the lead researcher of the study. She's a professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    Professor Avis, thank you for joining us.

    What is different that was learned in this study that wasn't previously understood?

  • DR. NANCY AVIS, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center:

    I think one of the things that was different is that we were able to follow women for a longer period of time. So we did learn that there are women who experience hot flashes for at least seven — 14 years, that up to 40 percent of our sample was still experiencing hot flashes, night sweats after 14 years.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And is it understood anymore why that is happening and how many women are experiencing it?

  • DR. NANCY AVIS:

    Well, in our sample, it's about 40 percent of our sample that were still experiencing hot flashes at that time.

    We will continue — we are continuing to follow women, and we will know in a few years how much longer they might last and what that percentage is. But this is what we found at this time.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And what about in terms of the why?

  • DR. NANCY AVIS:

    Well, we do know that women who begin to get their hot flashes when they're younger and earlier before they reach menopause experience them a longer period of time.

    And women who don't get them until they reach menopause experience them a shorter period of time. And that was a big difference that we found.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So bad news potentially if it happens sooner, rather than later.

    What about other correlations among women experiencing these symptoms of hot flashes longer? We mentioned a difference in racial, ethnic groups. Is that right?

  • DR. NANCY AVIS:

    That's right.

    And, as you pointed out, we did find that African-American women reported them for a longer period of time. And, in our sample, we had Chinese and Japanese women living in the U.S., but of Chinese and Japanese origin, and they experienced them for a shorter period of time.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, again, any understanding of why that would be?

  • DR. NANCY AVIS:

    You know, we have found this in cross-sectional studies conducted around the world, where Asian women do tend to report, in general, fewer hot flashes. And we have also found in the U.S. that African-American women report more hot flashes in terms of prevalence.

    So that's a consistent finding. It's very hard to try to figure out just why, because there could be differences in lifestyle, differences in diet, reproductive factors, hormonal factors. It's very complicated. It's a fascinating question, but we really don't have an answer just yet.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, you're saying the study continues. In the middle of this, though, is there any new information, any advice for women who are going through these difficult symptoms?

  • DR. NANCY AVIS:

    I think one of the important messages is that there is just huge variability among women.

    We found that about 20 percent only experienced hot flashes and night sweats for maybe two years, while another percentage found — experienced them for 14 years. So, there's just a wide variability of what women experience. And we don't really know what can explain that ahead of time for women.

    But for those who do experience them a long period of time, we need to find some safe and effective ways to relieve these symptoms. As of now, we really don't have good methods on the long term. People are investigating some methods such as acupuncture, hypnosis, mindfulness, stress reduction. Those are safe and effective for some women, worth a try — pharmaceuticals potentially, but they should talk to a health care provider about those.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, all very interesting, I know, to many, many Americans.

    Thank you very much, Dr. Nancy Avis.

  • DR. NANCY AVIS:

    Thank you.

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