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Anxiety, poor sleep, and time can affect accuracy of women's self-reports of menopause symptoms

Hot flashes and night sweats affect up to 75 percent of U.S. women during menopause. Yet, anxiety and lack of sleep - two symptoms of menopause - can prevent women from accurately assessing how severe or mild their symptoms are, according to new research.

Rebecca Clark Thurston, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh, and her team tested the accuracy of self-reports from women experiencing hot flashes and night sweats, called vasomotor symptoms (VMS), by comparing three common ways to measure the severity of these symptoms.

In their study (subscription required), 25 African American women and 27 white women experiencing hot flashes and night sweats wrote about their symptoms once every morning and every night in a paper journal, and they recorded their symptoms as they experienced them in an electronic journal. They also wore a device on their wrist that measured the physiological changes associated with hot flashes and night sweats. From a university press release:

"We found that when women recorded their symptoms at the end of the day, they tended to underestimate the number of VMS they experienced, particularly if they were anxious. Conversely, when women woke up in the morning and were asked to recall how many VMS they had overnight, they tended to overestimate how many VMS they experienced, particularly if they had poor sleep,” said Dr. Thurston...

These findings are important because researchers testing new therapies for menopause often rely on patients to tell them how often they experience their symptoms. If patients have a false perception of their symptoms because they are tired, anxious, or didn't record the details of their symptoms immediately, it could make it difficult to assess how well the treatments truly work. “We think physicians may want to consider probing deeper when evaluating their menopausal patients, to determine if anxiety or sleep problems might be influencing the way they perceive their VMS,” Dr. Thurston concluded.

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Previously: Acupuncture appears helpful at easing hot flashesHormone therapy soon after menopause onset may reduce Alzheimer’s riskMost physicians not prescribing low-dose hormone therapy and No long-term cognitive effects seen in younger post-menopausal women on hormone therapy.

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