June 2016 Health Bulletin

Menopause symptoms are associated with poor self-assessed work ability

A study from the Women's Health Research Program reporting on menopausal hot flushes and night sweats (also known as vasomotor symptoms or VMS) and women's self-assessed work ability has been published in journal Maturitas1.

The researchers surveyed 2,020 Australian women, aged 40 to 65 years. Study participants completed a questionnaire called the Work Ability Index. The researchers found that poorer work ability was significantly associated having VMS. Other factors independently associated with poorer work ability included being un-partnered, obese or overweight, smoking, being a carer and having insecure housing finance, but not with age.

Menopause is the permanent loss of ovarian function and fertility. Common symptoms of menopause include: hot flushes and night sweats, disrupted sleep; anxiety and disturbed mood; and joint pain. The symptoms of menopause often commence months to years before a woman experiences menopause, and may continue up to 15 or more years.

While VMS may directly adversely impact work ability through the personal discomfort of having flushes and sweats in the work environment, the findings are significant given that previous smaller studies have not found an independent association between VMS and work ability.

In addition, in a previous publication in the same journal, the same team reported that bothersome VMS are strongly associated with impaired psychological and general wellbeing, which in turn is likely to affect work ability2.

Women experience menopause at one of their busiest life phases, when many are employed outside the home and have diverse family responsibilities that frequently include caring for parents and extended family.

We believe this is the first study to report that being un-partnered, having insecure housing finance or a carer is independently associated with poorer self-reported work ability in women at midlife. Given that the proportion of women in this age group in the workforce is likely to increase in the future, there is the potential in the future for an even greater proportion of women whose work ability may be adversely impacted by menopause.

This is an important finding and health practitioners should take note and gauge the impact of VMS on a woman's work ability and carefully consider this impact in joint decision-making about the use of menopausal hormone therapy.

  1. Gartoulla P, Bell RJ, Worsley R, Davis SR. Menopausal vasomotor symptoms are associated with poor self-assessed work ability. Maturitas. 2016;87: 33-9.
  2. Gartoulla P, Bell RJ, Worsley R, Davis SR. Moderate-severely bothersome vasomotor symptoms are associated with lowered psychological general wellbeing in women at midlife. Maturitas. 2015;81: 487-92.

Information provided might not be relevant to a particular person's circumstances and should always be discussed with that person's own healthcare provider.