By Deborah Wilburn
Menopause symptoms don't have to get in the way of your job performance.You feel crazy, depressed. You're hot, you're cold. Your sex drive just drove away. You can't remember anything, including what you just read. Your mood swings could frighten a platoon of Marines. You're in menopause.
Menopause symptoms are well known, and researchers are only now looking at how they affect women in the workplace. A recent Dutch study, reported in the journal Menopause, took a closer look at how menopause affects "work ability." That's a person's ability to carry out job demands while attempting to predict future job performance, including how often a person will call in sick. The researchers enlisted 200 working women, ages 40 through 60, to complete a questionnaire about their work ability. Women who reported having menopausal symptoms were more likely to rate themselves lower on the work ability index, including reporting more missed days of work.
This isn't a news flash, but understanding the challenges of menopausal women in the workplace is important. "Since the 1980s women have made up half the workforce, and millions of menopausal women will continue to work," says Philip Sarrel, M.D., emeritus professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. "Going to work for most women correlates with enhanced self-esteem, better health, and less psychological stress."
Can HRT Help?
The question is how to effectively offer relieve those pesky menopause symptoms to help women stay productive on the job. At one time, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was commonly prescribed to ease menopause symptoms. But in July 2002 the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) issued a statement, based on its own study, that HRT increased risk of heart attacks, blood clots, and breast cancer. Millions of women promptly flushed their pills down the toilet.
"The trouble is that the risks discovered in the WHI study only related to Prempro, which was given to women who had not undergone hysterectomies," says Sarrel. Prempro is estrogen combined with another hormone, progestin.
Another group of women who had had hysterectomies were given estrogen-only therapy, which not only eased their menopausal symptoms, but proved to be safe. Even better, estrogen-only HRT reduced their risk of heart attacks by 50% and lowered their risk of breast cancer and bone fractures. "The gold standard for estrogen-only therapy is estradiol, which is FDA-approved," says Sarrel.
But the WHI report has been widely interpreted as no HRT for anyone, and women who could benefit from estrogen-only medications may be suffering needlessly. If menopause symptoms are getting in the way of your job, ask your doctor if you should try HRT.
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