By Carolyn Crist

(Reuters Health) – Overall, men know the transition through menopause can bring difficult symptoms for their wife or partner and that there may be ways to ease some of them, a small survey suggests.

But if men knew more about the symptoms and therapeutic options, they might feel less negatively affected by their partner’s transition and be better able to help her decide on whether to seek treatment that could help, the study authors write in the medical journal Menopause.

“Sometimes women suffer in silence, and this gets to the idea of sharing that experience with someone close to them who can help improve quality of life,” said Dr. Sharon Parish of New York-Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, New York, who led the study.

“It’s important for couples to understand each other’s lives and share decision-making about treatment options,” she said in a phone interview.

Parish and colleagues recruited more than 450 men to take a 35-question survey that gauged their awareness of menopausal symptoms and their understanding of menopause and its treatment options. The survey also asked about the impact of the partner’s symptoms on the man, and the influence men have on their partner’s menopausal symptom management.

Most men who took the survey were between 50 and 69 years old, married, lived with their partner full-time and had been in the relationship for more than 10 years.

About half were aware of the symptoms that their partner experienced regularly, especially difficulty with sleeping and lack of energy. The men often also identified symptoms such as low libido, mood swings, hot flashes, irritability, depression, weight gain and night sweats.

When asked how they would describe menopause to other men, the most common focus was “irrational” or “emotional” moods. About one in five men focused on hormonal changes, lack of menstrual cycles, inability to bear children and change in sex drive.

Nearly two thirds of participants said they were affected by their partner’s menopausal symptoms. Most of these said the impact was negative for the men, their partners and their relationships due to arguments, tension and reduced intimacy. At the same time, most men thought their partners were coping fairly well with the symptoms.

More than 70% of men said they engaged in discussions with their partner about menopausal symptoms, and 84% said their partners talked to them directly about going through menopause. Although some men said the conversations were stressful and frustrating, about half said they were relaxed, engaged and polite.

Almost three quarters of men believed they were somewhat or very influential in their partner’s decision to seek treatment or make lifestyle changes. Of the 350 men who said they had taken action to address the issue, about a third said they had tried to be more patient, supportive and compassionate. About one in 10 used avoidance tactics such as “giving space” and “staying out of the way.”

Two-thirds of the men said they’d feel comfortable discussing treatment options with their partners and four in 10 had suggested treatment options to their partners.

Many men noted their partners had changed to a healthier diet, begun an exercise regimen or started using hormone therapy.

“The idea that this is something that women must suffer through without treatment is an outdated concept,” Parish said. “Women don’t need to be ashamed or hide from this, and everyone should learn more and discuss these topics openly.”

The survey was funded by TherapeuticsMD, a Florida-based maker of hormone therapies for women.

Both men and women should be educated about the risks and benefits of treatment options, particularly hormone therapy, which draws the most questions, said Dr. James Simon of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Not infrequently, we receive feedback that patients’ husbands don’t want them to take hormones,” he said in a phone interview. “We need to increase knowledge and keep an open mind about all the treatments.”

These conversations should include doctors as well, said Sheryl Kingsberg of the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio, who also wasn’t involved in the study.

“Although your clinician should be opening the door to a discussion of menopause symptoms . . . please feel empowered to bring it up yourself,” she said by email. “If your clinician shuts you down, find a new one.”

SOURCE: Menopause, online June 10, 2019.