Myths and Menopause
As the population ages, lifespans are longer, so the average woman spends one third of her life after menopause. But how comfortable or prepared do women feel entering peri/menopause?
Much of what we think we know about menopause is a myth. Perhaps the most prevalent myth is that menopausal symptoms are strictly physical. The fact is, our hormones also go on a journey, which leads to symptoms that aren’t physical. When these occur, many women at midlife start to doubt their own sanity and stability. Recognizing the signs early can mean the difference between years of suffering and confusion versus years of living and understanding.
How did the menopause myths begin? The reasons are too many to count, but let’s start with the obvious and blame our mother. In interviewing patients about how and where they receive their information about menopause, they rarely mention their mothers. The same mothers who made our period cake, doted over our first pregnancy or helped us manage the first few days of motherhood, have remained silent on the issue of menopause.
Why? Because mothers, like most teachers, are incapable of imparting knowledge that they don’t have. Furthermore, if our friends are unaware about their own bodies and journeys through menopause, they can’t offer us any advice either. In fact, many circles of friends are all feeling the same things, with no clear teacher in sight.
It gets worse. Not only are our mother and friends mostly unprepared to help us navigate this period, but our doctor may be just as unprepared. The ignorance surrounding this phase of life is astounding when we consider that on average, it lasts a decade and has life-changing impacts on quality of life, relationships and work. Women are blindly struggling with no viable solutions offered by their medical providers. Those who have found a provider who takes the time to educate and do more than simply prescribe a hormone or antidepressant are fortunate.
Although there are many healthcare providers in front of the curve helping patients manage this period, there are just as many, if not more, who do not possess the tools to help and who infuse their own misperceptions into their guidance. In addition, there is no consensus on the role of hormone replacement in women. Just within the past two decades, the pendulum has swung from offering hormones like candy, to withholding hormones from desperate women entering menopause.
There is a menopause analogy of the grape versus the raisin. Estrogen is a hormone that keeps everything juicy. As we age and estrogen levels fall, that juicy grape looks and feels more like a raisin. Most women over 35 have experienced symptoms of menopause, like vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and decreased libido. Oftentimes, women don’t correlate those symptoms with being perimenopausal. But perimenopause can predate actual menopause by eight to 10 years.
Several menopause myths that need to be busted:
• Women are too young to be perimenopausal in their 40s. Menopause symptoms start in our 50s.
• Menopause is when some or most parts of us shrivel up and die.
• Menopause is the beginning of the end.
• Decreasing estrogen is the main menopause culprit.
And now, a reality check:
• Perimenopause typically starts in late 30s/early 40s. In terms of symptoms, there are no significant differences between perimenopause and menopause.
• One of the major myths of menopause is that it only relates to the menstrual cycle, or the end of it. In actuality, menopause is the beginning of our journey to become who we are meant to be.
• Menopause allows us the opportunity to reinvent and recreate ourselves, so that we walk into the second half of life stronger and more authentic.
• Menopause is defined as 12 months without menstruating. Using this definition, menopause is actually just one year.
• We can be in our reproductive years and perimenopausal at the same time.
Women don’t have to go through this period unassisted. There are wonderful treatments and new technology that can make this transition close to seamless. Start the conversation, get information and get empowered to walk into the best half of life.
Ariana Sholes-Douglas, MD, FACOG practices at Tula Wellness & Aesthetics, in Tucson. She is the author of the upcoming The Menopause Myth: What Your Mother, Doctor, and Friends Haven’t Shared About Life After 40, a collection of everything women over 35 should know about their health, from hormone replacement therapy to the benefits of yoga and meditation. Connect at 520-577-1129 or TulaWellnessMD.com. To learn more about the menopause myths, visit Dr.Arianna.com and take the menopause assessment to see how educated you are about menopause. See ad, page 2.