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Menopause Dealt with Differently in White and African-American Communities

Review on October 29, 2009

A 2000 study by Eve Agee, titled: "Menopause and the Transmission of Women's Knowledge: African American and White Women's Perspectives," throws new light on the differences that African American and White women have in dealing with the menopausal process. This study is the culmination of two years of research that includes open-ended interviews of seventy women and twenty health care providers, along with acting as a participant-observer in medical settings on the instances in which women sought treatment.

Hot flashes in particular were one of the menopause symptoms that women sought treatment for. The research was conducted in a Southern state because this is where African Americans are acknowledged to have most strongly preserved their cultural identity and heritage. Thirty-five of the seventy women who participated in the study were African American, while the other thirty-five were White. To control for class, women from working and middle-class groups were each well represented in the study.

The study found that women behaved remarkably similarly as a race and differently from their opposite race, regardless of social class, when dealing with the menopausal process. This includes the rate at which they seek treatment and whether or not they follow through with the doctor-recommended treatment. Hot flashes, in particular, were mentioned by White women as a symptom that required treatment.

Hot flashes are perceived to be extremely uncomfortable by African American women but, according to the study, they are less likely to seek treatment. Hot flashes, rather, were perceived as something to be stoically endured, much like many other of life's difficulties. Therefore hot flashes necessitate medical treatment. Hot flashes complaints were also not presented to a doctor because of African Americans' long history of being abused by medical institutions in the name of "research." These experiences make African American women more hesitant to seek out treatment. Hot flashes are more likely to be discussed by African-American women with their mothers and other older women.

Their first-hand experiences going through menopause make them perceived as a more reliable source of information that a doctor. Unlike African American Women, White women rarely talked to their mothers about menopause. They seemed distressed by this dynamic. But they also noted many medical advances had taken place since their mothers had undergone menopause, which made them reluctant to ask their help in regards to treatment. Hot flashes, in contrast, were frequently discussed by African American women with their mothers, who did not see medical advances as a reason to disregard their elders as a source of wisdom.

White women were much more likely to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) omission but they were conflicted about their choice because they did not fully understand HRT's side effects. On the occasions that African-American women saw a doctor, they were much more likely to disregard the doctors advice that they should take HRT. African-American women have been taught to rely on themselves, rather than listen to the advice of those outside of their community. Only time will tell whether they or White women are getting better medical treatment for their hot flashes. To quote Agee: the long-term risks and benefits of estrogen are unknown and will remain uncertain until the mid-21 st century."

  • Agee, Eva. Menopause and the Transmission of Women's Knowledge: African American and White Women's Perspectives. (2000). Medical Anthropology Quarterly.