A recent study investigated whether menopause symptoms influence the susceptibility of women developing chronic pain conditions.
Women are generally more likely to develop chronic pain than men, specifically during midlife. Not only are they more likely to develop the pain, but they tend to also have a higher pain severity and pain-related disability.
Estrogen and other reproductive hormones contribute to pain modulation and severity. Sometimes, large fluctuations in these levels can influence one’s susceptibility to develop chronic pain conditions.
A recent cross-sectional study investigated how the widely understood symptoms of menopause, such as impaired sleep, hot flashes, and negative moods, can contribute to chronic pain conditions, including arthritis, back pain, and fibromyalgia.
As published in The Journal of the North American Menopause Society, Gibson and colleagues used medical and pharmaceutical records from the National Veterans Health Administration. They narrowed the search to women veterans aged 46-64. The reason they chose to specifically study women veterans was that they were the population with a higher risk of developing more problematic menopausal symptoms, as well as chronic pain conditions.
Through the investigation, they found that the more menopausal symptoms one is dealing with, the higher the chance there is of developing a chronic pain condition, specifically in the older population, and those with a higher BMI.
Although this study was large and diverse with a large number of participants, there were still some limitations to consider. First, the duration of chronic menopausal symptoms was not looked at, nor was there a temporal relationship investigated. This means that it cannot be claimed whether menopausal symptoms cause chronic pain, or if chronic pain increases the number of menopausal symptoms.
Also, there were no considerations made to whether any women were taking hormone altering therapies, which may have changed the results. Since the study only investigated women venters, the findings also cannot be translated to the general population, since they are already at a higher risk of developing these conditions.
The study, however, still holds merit and can lead to more gender-sensitive care. Understanding factors related to chronic pain is important when trying to provide effective care.
Written by Unaisa Bhayat, BMedSc
Reference: Gibson C. J., Li Y., Bertenthal D., Huang A., Seal K. H. Menopause symptoms and chronic pain in a national sample of women veterans. The Journal of The North American Menopause Society. 2019; 26: 7.