How Menopause Affects Black Women
Are you black, approaching middle years and wondering how to deal with new changes to your body from menopause? Well, let’s talk about how menopause affects black women.
Perhaps you listen to older women in your network who talk about their struggles with menopause symptoms – challenges that may include trouble with diagnosis or treatment?
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What is Menopause
Menopause is a stage that all women will pass through just as they’ve gone through menarche (beginning of the menstrual cycle).
It’s a natural phenomenon – just as we pass from adolescence to our teen years, we will also eventually enter that period of life.
Even though it is part of us and we recognise its symptoms, each woman may have a different experience.
And for several years, scientists have demonstrated small but significant differences among groups of women.
So in this post, let’s talk about you, a black woman starting to think about menopause (or already experiencing some symptoms).
Is it possible they may not be what you were expecting?
(Make sure you read to the end to learn how early or late you will enter menopause and how your habits now can determine your health status later on).
Menopause is the time in your life that begins 12 months after your very last menstrual period.
But – you are not just your usual self one day; and menopausal the next.
The trip into menopause starts several months or years before you are menopausal – and studies tell us that if you are black, it may happen differently to other ethnic groups.
Menopause means that your ovaries are working less than before. The result is your body makes fewer hormones: Oestrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone in your body.
Realising this fact is vital for both you and your health workers so that any symptoms you have can be recognised and dealt with appropriately.
So let’s look at three ways menopause affects black women – and how it differs to others.
The Menopause Age
Black women can experience menopause slightly earlier than their white peers or counterparts – at least 12 months earlier in some cases.
According to the United States’ SWAN study, while white women were getting their FMP, (final menstrual periods) about age 51-52, black women and women of Latino and Asian background saw their FMP aged 49-50 years on average.
Women in sub-Saharan Africa commonly experience menopause between ages 45 and 55 years.
In some other studies, some Nigerian women experience their FMP around 47 – 48 years.
But why is menopause age important?
This difference in ages may be slight, but it is important because black and other women of colour will experience the transition to their final menstrual period (menopause), also known as perimenopause, at younger ages.
Therefore, both you and your doctor may not immediately consider your symptoms related to menopause.
These can include irregular bleeding, vaginal dryness and painful sex or problems controlling your bladder, for example.
Thus, your doctor may spend time treating you for another condition while it results from menopause.
Stomach and Bowel Effects of Menopause
The changes from your hormones around perimenopause and menopause can affect how your stomach and bowels work, leading to some uncomfortable symptoms.
More studies tell us – this is another area where slight differences may exist between the races.
Scientists in the US looked at over 1000 women of different ethnicities. The group includes Latina, African-American, white and Asian, aged 40 to 60 years.
More than 2 out of three of them were had not experienced menopause – or were only in transition.
They looked at a range of symptoms including:
- tummy pain,
- nausea and vomiting,
- diarrhoea and
- weight changes (i.e. weight loss or weight gain).
The most common change in these women was weight gain followed by bloating.
Asian women experienced these symptoms least frequently, but black women seem to develop more weight problems and heartburn than white women.
Why is this important, though?
Any woman developing new and unexplained symptoms like these should seek medical advice.
They could be caused by any number of different conditions like PCOS, Ovarian Cancer or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
However, the treatments are not the same, so health workers should also consider menopause among women in midlife experiencing these symptoms.
Later Complications of Menopause
In addition to the troublesome symptoms they cause, loss of our reproductive hormones increases our risks of certain conditions.
We have seen that black women start menopause earlier than some other races. This means they may develop these conditions earlier than usual.
Two examples are: thinning bones (osteoporosis) that risk developing fractures very easily and high cholesterol that leads to heart conditions.
Therefore, we shouldn’t wait till we are in our 50s or 60s to take necessary precautions. They will keep our heart, bones and joints healthy.
Exercise, weight lifting, calcium supplements, and a nutritious diet will help.
In addition, check out this video on my channel, where I share the best foods that will support your heart health.
Created with Alicia Keys and inspired by her own skincare journey and love of ancient beauty rituals, Keys Soulcare goes beyond skincare to truly care for the whole self — body, mind, and spirit.
Will Your Menopause Arrive Early or Late?
Now one more tidbit for you: are you likely to start menopause late or early?
Research from the SWAN study suggest certain habits or practices may mean a woman experiences her FMP later than usual.
They are a mixed bag, including:
- having used contraceptives when younger,
- not smoking,
- taking alcohol and
- being less physically active.
Women who reach a higher educational level, are employed and consider themselves in good general health also appear to reach menopause at a later age.
But it’s not just of interest to know whether you are likely to begin menopause early or later.
Having your last period at a later age is associated with the following conditions:
- Increased risk of breast, womb and ovarian cancer in some women.
But in other women, later age at menopause means:
- Prolonged survival
- Greater life expectancy,
- Reduced heart disease, (including angina, stroke) and
- Less risk of thinning bones and fracture.
These are just a few ways that, as a black woman, you may experience menopause slightly differently.
Still, being aware means you can discuss and advocate better with your health providers about your symptoms to get optimal care.
Editing By AskAwayHealth
All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
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