Racial Disparities, Menopause, and Vasomotor Symptoms

Why culturally competent healthcare is essential during menopause.

A middle-aged woman consults with a healthcare provider about the results of a bone density exam.

Updated on June 14, 2024

Vasomotor symptoms (VMS) refer to hot flashes and night sweats, sudden episodes of intense warmth, usually on the chest, neck, and face. The frequency and intensity of these episodes varies from one person to the next, but VMS can disrupt many aspects of a person’s life, including work, sleep, relationships, and moods. VMS are the most common reason people seek treatment during perimenopause.

Perimenopause refers to the time leading up to menopause, and menopause refers to the day that falls exactly one year after a final menstrual cycle. It’s estimated that approximately 75 percent of people who experience perimenopause experience VMS.

VMS are caused by the hormonal changes that occur during this phase and how hormonal fluctuations affect a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which regulates temperature (and many other important functions).

What is a health disparity?

A health disparity is a difference in health or healthcare between different populations. Differences can include the prevalence of health conditions, the severity of symptoms or illnesses, the type of healthcare a person receives, and the quality of healthcare a person receives, among others.

Different organizations define health disparity in slightly different ways, but the term is typically used to describe examples of inequity, inequality, and unjust differences—such as those that exist across race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, age, and the many other factors that can distinguish a population or community.

Health disparities, menopause, and VMS

Research has found several significant health disparities related to menopause and VMS, including disparities associated with race and ethnicity.

On average, people who are Black or Hispanic experience menopause earlier compared to people who are white, and also experience more frequent rates of early menopause (menopause between ages 40 and 45) and premature menopause (menopause before age 40).

Black women also report experiencing more severe vasomotor symptoms and experiencing vasomotor symptoms for roughly 10 years on average, a much longer duration of time compared with women who are white. Other research has found that Black women experience VMS and additional menopause-related symptoms for longer lengths of time before receiving treatment.

Treatment for VMS

There are treatments that can help a person manage menopause-associated symptoms. VMS can be treated with hormone therapy as well as non-hormonal therapies.

Also, while routine healthcare is important at every age, it is critical during perimenopause. A person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and other health problems increases significantly after menopause—and people who experience earlier menopause are at a greater risk of these health conditions.

Finding culturally competent care

As a person seeking care for any health concern, cultural competence is something to consider when choosing what healthcare provider to work with. Cultural competence is a healthcare provider’s ability to recognize how race, ethnicity, cultural background, and language affect a person’s healthcare needs. In other words, it means finding a healthcare provider that is a good fit for you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when working with a healthcare provider:

  • Do you feel respected during your appointments?
  • Do you feel comfortable bringing up questions and concerns?
  • Do you feel your questions and concerns are taken seriously?
  • Do you feel like your healthcare provider is able to understand what you mean when you ask a question or explain something?
  • Do you feel you understand what your healthcare provider means when they provide an explanation?
  • Do you feel you can be honest with your healthcare provider?
  • How does this healthcare provider compare to other providers you have worked with in the past?

If you do not have a healthcare provider, there are several ways to go about finding one. Ask any healthcare providers you know or have worked with in the past. Ask friends and family if they have any recommendations. Use a search engine to find local healthcare providers and medical centers—reading reviews can also be helpful. The website for your insurance provider should also have a search feature.

Article sources open article sources

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Rossella E. Nappi, Emad Siddiqui, et al. Prevalence and quality-of-life burden of vasomotor symptoms associated with menopause: A European cross-sectional survey. MATURITAS, 2022. Vol. 167.
Mayo Clinic. Hot Flashes.
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MedlinePlus. Health Disparities.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Disparities.
Nambi Ndugga and Samantha Artiga. Disparities in Health and Health Care: 5 Key Questions and Answers. KFF. April 1, 2023.
Kimberly Peacock, Karen Carlson, and Kari M. Ketvertis. Menopause. StatPearls. December 21, 2023.
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Barbara DePree, Katherine Houghton, et al. Treatment and resource utilization for menopausal symptoms in the United States: a retrospective review of real-world evidence from US electronic health records. Menopause, 2023. Vol. 30, No. 1.
Saira J. Khan, Ekta Kapoor, Stephanie S. Faubion, and Juliana M. Kling. Vasomotor Symptoms During Menopause: A Practical Guide on Current Treatments and Future Perspectives. International Journal of Women's Health, 2023. Vol. 15.
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