February 16, 2015

Hot flashes, night sweats and other symptoms of menopause typically affect women much longer than previously thought, a median of 7.4 years, according to a new study.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at a group of nearly 1,500 women with frequent symptoms of the onset of menopause and found significant variations in duration of menopausal vasomotor symptoms (VMS) between ethnic groups.

African-American women experience symptoms for a median of 10.1 years, more than any other ethnic group. On average, Chinese and Japanese women experienced the symptoms for the shortest duration—5.4 and 4.8 years, respectively.

Women who experienced hot flashes and night sweats at a younger age tended to have them last longer, the study found, as did women with less education and greater levels of stress.

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“These findings can help health care professionals counsel patients about expectations regarding VMS and assist women in making treatment decisions based on the probability of their VMS persisting,” said the study, which notes that 80% of women experience such symptoms.

The study challenges the long-held notion that these experiences “minimally affect women’s health or quality of life and can be readily addressed by short-term approaches,” according to a commentary that accompanies the study.

Write to Justin Worland at justin.worland@time.com.

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