Some women who are depressed as they move
toward menopause may notice their symptoms fading or disappearing after a few
years, a new study suggests.
Researchers found the proportion of women
who reported having depression symptoms dropped consistently, starting 10 years
before they had their final menstrual period until eight years after.
"If this is a condition that seems to
appear in conjunction with approaching menopause, it may be time limited and
the risk may really diminish to low levels once they pass menopause,"
Ellen Freeman, the study's lead author, said.
Freeman is a research professor at the
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. Previous studies
found women have a higher risk of depression as they enter menopause, the
researchers write in JAMA Psychiatry.
Scale of depression symptoms
But little was known about what happened
after a woman stopped getting her menstrual periods altogether. Freeman and her
colleagues studied 203 women between the ages of 35 and 48 who had not gone
through menopause in 1996. They followed the women through 2010.
Women completed a questionnaire every so
often to determine if they were depressed. At the beginning of the study, about
40% of them scored high enough on the scale of depression symptoms to show they
had at least mild or moderate depression, the researchers found.
Starting a decade before their last
menstrual period, women's risk of depression fell about 15% every year during
the study. "One average, for two years after the final menstrual period the
risk is still high but after that the risk goes down pretty low," Freeman
told Reuters Health.
The pattern of depression symptoms around
menopause was similar for women who did and didn't have a history of depression
leading up to the study. But across the research period, women with a history
of depression were more than 13 times more likely to report having depression
symptoms again compared to women with no history of depression.
those women, Freeman said, depression should not be treated as a symptom of
menopause. "It would appear that for women who had depression before and
have depression again, it's probably a different underlying process," she said.
As for women without a history of
depression, while the researchers can't say hormone levels caused depression
symptoms, they did find an association between women's scores and hormone
levels. The existing evidence on a link between rapidly changing hormones and
depression is conflicting, Joyce Bromberger said.
studies women's mental health at the University of Pittsburgh in
Pennsylvania."But it's still important to look at," Bromberger, told Reuters Health. "It's just that
it's very difficult to look at hormone patterns over time."
"She said it's also hard to know how
applicable the new findings would be to the average woman, because such a large
proportion of participants met the test's threshold for mild or moderate
depression. "I think we can say that over time that – on average –
depressive symptoms go down, but that doesn't tell us about women who are
at greater risk," she said.