Study shows menopause costs US women $1.8 billion in lost work time

Menopause costs American women an estimated $1.8 billion in lost work time each year, according to a Mayo Clinic study released this week. The paper examined how hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and the myriad other symptoms that accompany this stage of life affect women in the workplace. It is the largest study of its kind conducted in the United States.

The researchers surveyed more than 4,000 participants at four Mayo Clinic locations in Minnesota, Arizona, Florida and Wisconsin. About 15 percent said they either missed work or reduced their hours because of their menopausal symptoms, which the study classified as “adverse work outcomes.” Those who reported the worst symptoms were 16 times more likely to report such outcomes than those with the least severe symptoms. Just over 1 percent said their symptoms had become so debilitating that they either quit work or were fired in the previous six months.

“We took that data and extrapolated it based on the US workforce, and that’s how we came up with the estimated annual loss,” said Dr. Juliana Kling, study co-author and Chair of the Women’s Health Internal Medicine Division at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. According to US Census data, more than 15 million women ages 45 to 60 work in the workplace.

Although the majority of survey participants were white, the researchers found that menopause may have a greater impact on black and Hispanic working women, said Dr. ring. “Black women tended to have more menopausal symptoms,” she said. “And higher percentages of black women and Hispanic women reported negative work outcomes related to menopausal symptoms compared to white women.”

Several other studies came to similar conclusions as the Mayo Clinic study. A smaller survey by corporate health benefits provider Carrot Fertility found that about 20 percent of women took time off work because of menopause. Researchers at the University of Southampton in England analyzed data from a longitudinal study of over 3,000 women and found that those who reported at least one bothersome symptom of menopause by age 50 were 43 percent more likely to keep their job by age 55 had given up for years.

The findings underscore the physical, economic and social challenges faced by women as they age, who must endure sometimes debilitating physical changes while navigating through the inconvenience of speaking to younger or male peers about menopause, said Dr. Ekta Kapoor, study co-author and endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. “The topic of menopause is generally taboo, but even more so in the workplace,” she says. “I’ve heard from women that they don’t want to come across as a ‘whiner’ at work or they’ll bring up menopause and people roll their eyes.” Adding Kapoor can exacerbate the psychological challenges.

The economic loss calculated by the Mayo Clinic study is likely an underestimate, said Dr. Kapoor because the women interviewed have access to health insurance and potential treatments for their symptoms, which many Americans do not have.

The results “confirm what patients tell me,” said Dr. Makeba Williams, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. (Dr. Williams was not involved in the research.) For example, one of her patients is a college professor who was so plagued by the brain fog she experienced during the transition to menopause that she decided not to teach advanced classes , Dr. Williams said. “Her symptoms had gotten so bad that she couldn’t find the next word when she was reciting. This story can come in many different versions. Women see in their daily lives that their productivity is being impacted.”

But most Americans don’t have the option to downsize from work like some women in the study did, said Dr. Williams. “Many women don’t have the privilege of saying I just won’t teach this course – because if you don’t show up, you may not have a job and that has economic and personal financial implications as well.”

Two years ago, when Grace Ward was a 44-year-old director of a local library in Kalamazoo, Michigan, she developed severe migraines for the first time in her life – a symptom, she later realized, of perimenopause, the transition to menopause.

“Two to three days a month I had to keep my head down. The photosensitivity was just disgusting,” she said. She also experienced “wild” mood swings and hot flashes that kept her up at night, and she started menstruating twice a month – which made her “significantly tired”.

Ms Ward used her sick days to take time off work, and eventually “my supervisors began to wonder if I was up to it.” She then decided to resign.

“I thought it would be better to leave than get fired,” she said. “It’s terrible that we – as women – have to go through this madness. I routinely feel bad for us.”

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