AUSTIN, Texas—A University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing professor, who believes there are significant ethnic differences in how women experience menopause, is conducting a $1.2 million National Institutes of Health study to collect data on 500 middle-aged women nationwide.
The project is Internet-based and will look at ethnic differences in menopausal symptoms reported by four of the most common ethnic groups of women across the United States: White, Hispanic, African American and Asian.
“Increasing ethnic diversity of our population requires health professionals to practice with greater cultural competence in areas such as the management of menopausal symptoms, where cultural beliefs mediate the biology of reproduction and aging,” said Dr. Eun-Ok Im, principal investigator.
A growing number of studies have challenged the universality of menopausal symptoms by indicating ethnic differences in how women experience them. For example, it has been reported that the majority of white women experience hot flashes whereas Asian women experience hot flashes but at a lower prevalence rate, and that Hispanic women experience more urinary problems and African American women have more weight gain.
“All of this has been reported but findings are inconsistent,” Im said, adding that another study compared Japanese American and white women in Hawaii and found no significant differences in menopausal symptoms.
Im believes her study will present a more valid comparison because she is getting equal numbers of participants from each ethnic group.
“There are several national scope studies among midlife women, but their focus is not on ethnic differences in menopausal symptoms,” she said.
The study will look at a number of issues, including a woman’s socio-economic group, ethnicity, race, physical activity, kinds of food frequently eaten, menopausal symptoms and attitudes toward menopause, including general feelings about overall health. Types of medication taken, including herbal remedies for hot flash symptoms, also will be recorded.
“It is very important to look at attitude,” said Im, adding that other studies have shown that African American women have more positive attitudes toward menopause than white women and that white women are primarily concerned about menopause as a harbinger of physical aging. In addition, Asian women living in cultures where social status increases with age also have been reported to have positive attitudes toward menopause and aging.
Im’s research uses innovative Internet data collection methods to collect national data and essential information about specific ethnic differences in menopausal symptom experiences.
“With advances in computer technologies, the Internet now provides an excellent medium of national and international communication and allows people in different geographical areas to communicate and exchange their experiences and opinions,” she said.
When completed in 2009, Im hopes the research will contribute to health care planning from women’s own perspectives and help develop decision support systems for menopausal symptom management. She also anticipates that the findings will work to eliminate ethnic biases and inequity in menopausal symptom management and promote culturally competent care for menopausal women.