Conference Coverage

Menopausal hormone therapy less prescribed for Black women


AT NAMS 2023

The prescribing, counseling, and use of hormone therapy (HT) to treat menopausal symptoms is substantially more common among white women than among Black women, according to a review of published studies presented at the annual meeting of the Menopause Society (formerly The North American Menopause Society).

“Gaps in treatment can be used to inform health care providers about menopausal HT prescribing disparities, with the goal of improving equitable and advanced patient care among disadvantaged populations,” wrote Danette Conklin, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and reproductive biology at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, and a psychologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center; Sally MacPhedran, MD, an associate professor of reproductive biology at Case Western Reserve University and an ob.gyn at MetroHealth Medical Center, also in Cleveland; and their colleagues.

The researchers combed through PubMed, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, Web of Science and PsychInfo databases to identify all studies conducted in the United States since 1940 that contained data on patient demographics and prescribing patterns for hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms. In addition to excluding men, children, teens, trans men, and women who had contraindications for HT, the investigators excluded randomized clinical trials so that prescribing patterns would not be based on protocols or RCT participatory criteria.

The researchers identified 20 studies, ranging from 1973 through 2015, including 9 national studies and the others across different U.S. regions. They then analyzed differences in HT prescribing according to age, race/ethnicity, education, income, insurance type, body mass index, and mental health, including alcohol or substance use.

Seven of the studies assessed HT use based on patient surveys, seven used medical or medication records showing an HT prescription, two studies used insurance claims to show an HT prescription, and one study surveyed patients about whether they received an HT prescription. Another four studies used surveys that asked patients whether they received HT counseling but did not indicate if the patients received a prescription.

Half of the studies showed racial disparities in HT prescribing. In all of them, Black women used or were prescribed or counseled on using HT less than white, Hispanic, or Asian women. White women had greater use, prescribing, or counseling than all other races/ethnicities except one study in which Hispanic women were prescribed vaginal estrogen more often than white women.

Six of the studies showed education disparities in which menopausal women with lower education levels used less HT or were prescribed or counseled on HT less than women with higher education.

Complex reasons

Monica Christmas, MD, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago and director of the Menopause Program and the Center for Women’s Integrated Health, said the study’s findings were not surprising, but the reasons for the racial disparities are likely complex.

Dr. Christmas is director of the Center for Women's Integrated Health at the University of Chicago

Dr. Monica Christmas

Implicit bias in providers is likely one contributing factor, with some providers not thinking of offering HT to certain patients or not expecting the patients to be interested in it. Providers may also hesitate to prescribe HT to patients with more comorbidities because of concerns about HT risks, so if Black patients have more comorbidities, that could play a role in how many are offered or counseled on HT, she said.

“Probably the biggest take home is that it is important to be asking all of our patients about their symptoms and being proactive about talking about it,” Dr. Christmas said in an interview.

At the same time, in her anecdotal experience at a previous institution, Dr. Christmas noticed that her Black patients were less receptive to using hormone therapy than her White patients even though her Black patients tended to exhibit or report greater or more severe symptoms. But there’s been a “paradigm shift” more recently, Dr. Christmas said. With awareness about menopause growing in the media and particularly on social media, and with greater awareness about racial disparities in menopausal symptoms and care – including that shown in Dr. Christmas’s work in the SWAN Study – Dr. Christmas has had more Black patients asking about HT and other treatments for their menopausal symptoms more recently.

“Just 10 years ago, I was trying to talk to people about hormones, and I’ve been giving them to people that need them for a long time, and I couldn’t,” Dr. Christmas said. “Now people are coming in, saying ‘no one’s ever talked to me about it’ or ‘I deserve this.’ It shows you the persuasion that social media and the Internet have on our thinking too, and I think that’s going to be interesting to look at, to see how that impacts people’s perception about wanting treatment.”

Dr. Conklin agreed that reasons for the disparities likely involve a combination of factors, including providers’ assumptions about different racial groups’ knowledge and receptiveness toward different treatments. One of the studies in their review also reported provider barriers to prescribing HT, which included lack of time, lack of adequate knowledge, and concern about risks to patients’ health.

“Medical providers tend to have less time with their patients compared to PhDs, and that time factor really makes a big difference in terms of what the focus is going to be in that [short] appointment,” Dr. Conklin said in an interview. “Perhaps from a provider point of view, they are prioritizing what they think is more important to their patient and not really listening deeply to what their patient is saying.”


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