"Understudied": Menopause as a Marker for Chronic Pain Among Veterans

Study of Women Veterans Highlights Connection to Pain and Opioid Use Patterns

In an oral presentation delivered at the 2017 meeting of the North American Menopause Society, Carolyn J. Gibson, PhD, MPH, of the San Francisco VA Health Care System, offered her team’s findings on the relationship of menopause to chronic pain incidence and opioid use patterns among veterans. “The relationship between menopause and chronic pain is not well understood,” Dr. Gibson told the assembly. “And the relationship between menopause and chronic pain treatment has not been investigated, so we aimed to address that gap within a high-risk group of women veterans." Veterans undergoing transition to menopause were at significantly greater risk for diagnosis of 1 or more chronic pain conditions, and this group also reported higher rates of long-term opioid use as well as higher concurrent use of opioids and sedative-hypnotics, according to the findings.

The study examined national VA data for 422,737 women, and identified menopause-related diagnoses in 6% of the cohort. 46% of these reported some form of chronic pain diagnosis, and these tended to be older, heavier, and more likely to have additional mental health and/or substance use disorder issues. The presentation abstract noted that “These findings shed light on this understudied area, raising the possibility that menopause is an under-recognized marker of risk for chronic pain as well as long-term and high-risk opioid use. Prospective studies are needed to better understand the role of menopause in chronic pain complaints and chronic pain treatment in both the VA and general health care settings.”

The poster abstract (S-5) may be read here.

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