Menopause affects type, location, intensity of pain

May 31, 2012

Menopause seems to alter the type, location, duration, and intensity of pain in women.

Episodes of headache, osteoarticular pain, and back pain seem to decline after menopause in many women.

Researchers hypothesize that hormones modulate the perception of pain.

Menopause seems to alter pain in women, but how it does so varies with the type, location, duration, and intensity of the pain, according to a recent observational study from Italy.

The authors found that most women experiencing headaches and back pain prior to menopause reported that their pain diminished after menopause. Osteoarthritic pain, however, was reported to commence or worsen after menopause by about the half the women surveyed. Women who suffered high-intensity or protracted pain tended to improve or remain stable after menopause, while those with low-intensity, shorter-duration pain worsened. 

Published in the journal Menopause (2012;19[5]:517-523), the findings come from a questionnaire completed by 101 women, aged 45 and 57, who were 4.0 ± 3.7 years from the onset of menopause.

The most frequently described pain syndromes were headache (38%), osteoarticular pain (31%), and cervical/lumbar pain (21%). Pain was present before menopause in 66 women, ceased with menopause in 17, and began after menopause in 18.

Cluster analysis identified 4 groups of women. In the first group, all of the women experienced headaches that ceased or improved with menopause. The second group included women with osteoarticular pain. In this group, about half of the women reported improvement with menopause; in the other half, pain remained stable. The third group included women with cervical/lumbar pain that ceased or improved with menopause in all. The fourth group contained women who experienced different kinds of moderate pain that worsened in all after menopause.

The authors noted that it is impossible to completely separate the effects of menopause from those of age, but they conclude that chronic pain disorders change throughout the course of menopause, and that hormones modulate the pain experience.

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