Women of Color and The Menopause Experience
Menopause is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Some women scrape by with only a few hot flashes and irregular periods, whereas others struggle with severe physical and mental symptoms. The average age women reach menopause is 51, but some women can reach it in their 30s or even their 60s.
Recent results from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) find that women of color are more likely to start their transition to menopause earlier, and it lasts longer. Findings also indicate that women of color report more intense symptoms, especially hot flashes and vaginal discomfort. More specifically, SWAN identified that:
- Black, Asian, and Hispanic women reach menopause about 1.5 years earlier on average than non-Hispanic white women.
- Black women are more likely to have irregular bleeding at a younger age, thus indicating they start perimenopause at a younger age.
- Hispanic women experience hot flashes and night sweats for 8.5 years, and black women report them for 10.1 years, on average. Non-Hispanic white women report hot flashes and night sweats for an average of 6.5 years.
- Hispanic women report more severe vaginal symptoms, such as pain with intercourse and dryness.
What to Know About Early Menopause
Women who enter menopause earlier are at greater risk for adverse health outcomes. Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, plays a role in all our organ systems. Every tissue in our body is affected by declining estrogen levels that accompany the menopause transition.
The earlier you enter menopause, the greater your risk for cardiovascular disease. Estrogen has cardioprotective properties, meaning that it decreases your risk for heart attack and stroke. Primarily, estrogen helps to prevent atherosclerosis or hardening of your arteries. Multiple studies have confirmed that women who have early menopause have a two-fold increased risk for coronary heart disease and stroke.
Early menopause also increases your risk for bone fractures due to osteoporosis. Estrogen is also bone protective. When estrogen levels decline, your bone becomes more porous, weaker, and prone to breakage. Bone fractures can lead to other significant health problems like infection, depression, and immobility, especially in older adults.
Because women of color are more likely to enter menopause earlier, they are at greater risk for adverse health outcomes later in life.
Why Do These Patterns Occur In Women Of Color?
At this time, researchers do not have concrete answers as to why women of color are more likely to experience earlier and longer menopause transitions with more severe symptoms. But most researchers agree that allostatic load plays a significant role in these patterns.
Allostatic load is the wear and tear on the body. The body is constantly trying to maintain balance or homeostasis. But when stress hormones like cortisol are chronically high, it can create a ‘weathering effect,’ which results in chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Essentially, women of color are more at risk of having a higher allostatic load because they encounter more stressors throughout their life. These stressors can include lower socioeconomic status, racial discrimination, poor access to health resources, and living in disadvantaged environments. In general, the traumas of systemic racism can all lead to worse health outcomes in women of color. The weathering theory is further supported by research that finds that black women are 7.5 years biologically higher in age than white women, based on the length of their telomeres.
How To Prepare for Menopause As A Woman Of Color
Don’t ignore the signs.
It is important not to ignore any signs or symptoms of menopause, no matter your age. Additionally, do not hesitate to get a second opinion if you feel your doctor dismissed your symptoms.
Meet with a menopause specialist.
Finding a menopause specialist can be tremendously helpful, as these providers receive special training and have a passion for caring for women in this life stage.
Keep up with preventative health screenings.
Preventative care can help detect early signs of health problems like high blood pressure. With early action, you can help to prevent adverse situations like stroke and heart attack.
Find support through your family, friends, local community, and even online communities of diverse women who are in menopause. Connecting with people can have tremendous physical, mental, and emotional health benefits.
A Note From Caria
We at Caria are always learning how we can best support all people on their menopause journey. And we want menopause to be a better experience for everyone. Please reach out to help us better understand the unique needs of every person going through menopause.