By: Laurie Edwards
Experts have been talking about the link between gender and depression for some time, but new research shows that women approaching menopause have more reason to evaluate their symptoms: That pivotal period of change can alter hormone levels and cause depression.
|Finding a Cause|
If you are near the age of menopause and are feeling blue, check to see if you have the symptoms of perimenopause.
Symptoms of perimenopause include the following:
Irregular menstrual periods – shorter, longer, heavier or lighter
Night sweats that are often followed by chills
Disrupted sleep or inability to sleep through the night
Hair loss or thinning; more hair growth on the face
For more information, check out www.womenshealth.gov
“Transition to menopause and its changing hormonal milieu are strongly associated with both new onset high depressive symptoms and new onset of diagnosed depressive disorders in women with no history of depression,” said Dr. Helen Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania.
The study, published in a recent issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, found that women were almost four times more likely to report high depression scores during their transition into menopause when compared to their pre-menopausal status.
Experts believe that the female body itself may predispose women to experience depression in larger numbers than men. Once puberty occurs, the more pronounced the gender disparity in terms of depression becomes.
Since this gender gap starts at puberty and evens out again after women have experienced menopause, many believe the disparity is due to hormonal reasons. At the same time, the social and psychological expectations that accompany these particular life phases could help explain the increased risk of depression.
Whether it’s referred to as the “change of life” or even simply “the change,” menopause and its various symptoms and treatments is a popular topic. Perimenopause refers to the period leading up to menopause wherein women begin noticing symptoms, as well as the year after. Technically, menopause is actually only one day – it’s the day a woman hasn’t had a period for twelve months in a row.
Most women start perimenopause between the ages of 45 and 55, though some women start as early as their 30s. For some women, taking hormones like the ones found in birth control can help alleviate symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats and mood changes. A healthy diet and regular exercise can also minimize the risk of losing bone density.
In this latest study, even after other risk factors – smoking, body mass index, premenstrual syndrome, poor sleep habits, current health status, relationship and employment status – were taken into account, the connection between hormone levels and depression remained intact.
At the same time, study authors noted that health and demographic factors like smoking or hot flashes are part of the larger, multifaceted nature of depressive symptoms themselves.
“Further follow-up study is needed to determine the extent to which the reports of depressed mood are limited to the perimenopausal period and to determine whether the identified risk factors are associated with more persistent depression,” said Dr. Freeman.
Similarly, another study published in Archives of General Psychiatry found that an earlier transition to menopause might increase the likelihood of women developing first-time depression. In this particular study, women who experienced an earlier menopause transition were twice as likely to develop significant symptoms of depression than women who remained pre-menopausal.
According to Dr. Lee Cohen of the Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues at the Harvard Study of Moods and Cycle, the increased risk was greater in women who also reported vasomotor symptoms (changes in blood vessels). Researchers also concluded that the nature of the relationship between hot flashes and depression is yet to be fully understood. It could be influenced by disrupted sleep patterns, or it could be that the various hormonal changes brought about by menopause make some women more sensitive.
A variety of symptoms accompany this transition – bone density depletion, sexual dysfunction, decline in cognitive function – that could feed off each other. “Thus, the comorbidity of these problems with perimenopause-associated depression could affect many aging women, leading to a compounded burden of illness,” Dr. Cohen and colleagues wrote.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in the following:
Perimenopause: A Critical Time For Health
The Lady Has the Blues – Women and Depression (Parts 1 and 2)
Menopause and Depression – Jury Still Out on the Connection