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Menopause

19 December 2018

An emotionally abusive partner may worsen menopause symptoms

A study suggests that stress caused by emotional abuse or other trauma may play a role in hormonal changes that affect menopause.

Emotional abuse may add to the woes of menopause, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that women who are emotionally tormented by a spouse or partner may suffer from more night sweats, painful sex and hot flashes when their periods stop.

Emotional abuse or other trauma

"The data show that experience of domestic violence and emotional abuse, sexual assault and clinically significant PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms are common, and may affect women's health across the lifespan," said lead author Carolyn Gibson. She's a clinical research psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

"Traditionally, menopause symptoms have been largely attributed to biological and hormonal changes," as well as negative mood, smoking and chronic health conditions such as obesity, Gibson explained in a university news release.

Now it seems that stress caused by emotional abuse or other trauma may play a role in hormonal changes that affect menopause, the study authors noted.

Among more than 2 000 middle-aged and older women, the researchers found that one in five had been emotionally abused by a former or current partner. These women had 50% higher odds of night sweats and 60% higher odds of painful sex, according to the study.

Moreover, menopausal pain and discomfort were also significantly higher in women who had symptoms of PTSD or were victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, the findings showed.

Enhancing management of symptoms

Women with PTSD had more than three times the risk of sleep difficulties, and more than twice the odds of vaginal irritation and painful intercourse. And victims of sexual assault or violence by a former or current partner were 40 to 44% more likely to experience painful sex, the researchers reported.

Traumatic exposures, especially emotional abuse and PTSD, were "surprisingly common" in this sample of women, Gibson said.

Emotional abuse included being made fun of, severely criticised, called stupid or worthless, or threats of harm either to the woman herself, her possessions or her pets.

Among the study group, about 23% reported symptoms of PTSD, 16% said they were or had been victims of domestic violence, and 19% had experienced sexual assault.

The study can't prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Still, the findings suggest that "routine assessment and recognition of PTSD symptoms and lifetime traumatic exposures when women are seen by health care providers may enhance the effective management of menopausal symptoms," Gibson concluded.

The report was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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