When a woman's periods begin to slow down and finally stop, digestive problems often pick up -- and new research suggests race and ethnicity play a role.
With menopause, levels of estrogen decrease, while cortisol levels increase, triggering an adrenaline boost that changes digestive function. It can set off symptoms such as bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, indigestion, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss or gain and heartburn.
"This study highlights significant associations between GI symptoms and menopause status, with postmenopausal women generally reporting a greater number of symptoms and more severe symptoms," said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
"It also shows important racial/ethnic differences in GI symptom reporting, similar to what has been shown with menopause symptoms," Faubion said in a society news release.
Racial/ethnic differences in hormonal changes during menopause had previously been reported, but little has been known about how race or ethnicity affects digestive symptoms during menopause.
To learn more, researchers analyzed data from more than 1,000 women and found significant differences in the severity of digestive symptoms in different racial/ethnic groups.
For example, Asian women had significantly fewer and less severe symptoms than other racial/ethnic groups. White women had more severe symptoms, especially in nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and loss of appetite.
Hispanic women were more likely to experience more severe constipation, weight gain and bloating, while Black women were more likely to have more severe weight loss.
For all women, the highest severity score was for weight gain, according to findings published online Dec. 8 in NAMS' journal, Menopause.
Except in weight loss, the study also found significant differences in total gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and their severity depending whether a woman had not yet entered menopause, was going through it or had finished it. Premenopausal women in all racial/ethnic groups had fewer and less severe symptoms.
Faubion said more study is needed to confirm the findings and determine the best ways for midlife women to manage new and bothersome GI symptoms.
The U.S. Office on Women's Health has more about menopause.
SOURCE: North American Menopause Society, news release, Dec. 8, 2021