Five Myths of Menopause
Women make up 50 percent of the world’s population and every one of us will go through menopause. Menopause technically occurs when a woman has gone a full year without a period. It has three stages: perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause. SIU Medicine nurse practitioner and Menopause Society Certified Practitioner Mary Hitt believes the more open and honest you are with your health care provider about your symptoms and experiences, the better you can feel emotionally and physically. Far too many women experience menopause without an adequate understanding of what is happening to their bodies and moods during this transition.
MYTH: I can’t get pregnant while going through perimenopause.
While it’s true that your periods may be irregular, have shorter cycles and be closer together or stop for months at a time during perimenopause, your body can still be ovulating. You can still get pregnant. It’s important to talk to your health care provider about contraception. If you think you might be pregnant and have skipped your period, consider taking a pregnancy test.
MYTH: Hot flashes are inevitable.
Don’t sweat it! Hot flashes and night sweats are probably one of the more commonly known symptoms of menopause, but the symptoms of menopause vary greatly from woman to woman. Some experience multiple, severe symptoms, while others have an easy transition. For women with any bothersome symptoms, help is available.
Some of the most common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause include:
• Hot flashes
• Night sweats
• Period changes
• Vaginal dryness
• Painful sex
• Sleep problems
• Brain fog
• Weight gain
• Hair loss or hair thinning
• Dry skin
• Joint pains
MYTH: My symptoms won’t last long.
The severity of an individual’s symptoms will vary, and they can change. Some symptoms of perimenopause and menopause can last for years. We historically told women that symptoms would last about 2-3 years, but we now know from newer research that symptoms last around 7 years on average. “Don’t wait until you’re miserable to bring up your symptoms,” says Hitt. “We have treatments and strategies to help.”
MYTH: Hormone therapy isn’t an option.
Women have been misled about menopause overall, particularly about the risks of hormone therapy. Like any treatment or medication, it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of hormone therapy. For women who are under age 60 years or within 10 years of their menopause, few have absolute contraindications to hormone therapy. Hormone therapy is an effective and well-researched treatment for many bothersome menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats. The decision to start hormone therapy or not should be based on the woman’s severity of symptoms and bother, as well as her personal preferences and level of risk tolerance.
MYTH: Menopause is a concern for old ladies.
Age is just a number, and I’ve got ‘til like 60, right? No. not really.
As with puberty, women officially reach menopause at different ages with the majority experiencing menopause between 45 and 55. Menopause can also be triggered by surgery and medical treatments. For some women, perimenopause symptoms can begin in their 30s and early 40s.
The better we take care of ourselves before menopause, the better our overall health will be for managing its symptoms.
Menopause is not a taboo topic. If you’re entering perimenopause or even if you’re in menopause now, keep an open dialogue with your health care provider. Maintain your scheduled appointments, so when you notice changes in your symptoms, they can be addressed.