Women who experience hot flashes and let them go untreated may be costing the economy hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a recent study published online in Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society.
The study looked at health insurance records of more than 500,000 women who worked for Fortune 500 companies between 1999 and 2011. Out of the total sampling, about half of the women experienced vasomotor symptoms, also known as hot flashes, while the other half did not have hot flashes.
The study’s authors looked at the women’s records over a 12-month period. Within the 12 months, the women who had hot flashes had 1.5 million more health care visits than the women without hot flashes.
“The main takeaway is that untreated hot flashes results in a significantly higher frequency of patient visits,” said Dr. Philip Sarrel, a co-author of the study and professor emeritus of obstetrics, gynecology and psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine.
The cost of the extra health care visits for menopausal women with hot flashes totaled nearly $340 million for health insurance companies. Work loss and work compensation added an additional $27 million.
For women in the workforce, hot flashes can have a big impact on career. While some women with hot flashes take more time off work, others drop out of the workforce altogether, leaving expensive economic repercussions.
Sensations of sudden heat are not the only symptoms that affect women experiencing hot flashes. Some other common symptoms include fatigue, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances. Menopausal women suffering from the most severe hot flashes range in age from 45 to 54, Sarrel said.
“When a woman is 45, she is entering into what could be the most productive phase of her whole life,” Sarrel said. “She has all this life experience and could be leading the team, writing the best books, painting the best paintings. It’s not fair that something imposes with her natural, creative process.”
Since 2009, one million women between the ages of 45 and 54 have dropped out of the work force, according to a New York Times article published in June.
Sarrel believes the health and economic issues resulting from untreated hot flashes can be associated with a 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study that said hormone therapy, a treatment option for hot flashes, was linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. The study triggered a fear among women, and today fewer than 10 percent of women with hot flashes are being treated, Sarrel said.
“What happens with hot flashes at the peak of a woman’s career is a simple biological change if you know how to deal with it,” Sarrel said. “No one is paying attention, but we need to pay attention. It places a burden on our health care system.”
“For Women in Midlife, Career Gains Slip Away.” New York Times. Accessed August 29, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/business/women-leave-their-careers-in-....
“Incremental direct and indirect costs of untreated vasomotor symptoms.” Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society. Accessed August 28, 2014. http://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/Abstract/publishahead/Increment....
Sarrel, Philip. Personal interview. August 25, 2014.Read more in Advancing Health After Hysterectomy