Menopause - What every woman should know but doesn’t

Menopause - What every woman should know but doesn’t

Let’s start with trying to understand what menopause is, and what it is not.

A woman walks into her doctor’s office and complains of weight gain, irritability, and lack of sleep. Her doctor tells her ‘You’re just at that age,” and dismisses her concerns. What they don’t tell you is that what we don’t know, can hurt us. Therefore, it’s important for women to keep pushing for answers.

100% of women will go through menopause, yet most would say that during one of the most critical stages of their lives, they can’t seem to get a straight answer. Many report feeling dismissed and overlooked by their healthcare practitioners when they mention their concerns over menopause. There is good reason for this. Since menopause isn’t determined to be a disease, healthcare professionals receive very little training on it.

Menopause is the natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. It is literally one day. It is the day that marks one year without menses. The ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and the body is producing less estrogen and progesterone leading to a variety of changes to our bodies.

The very next day and all the days to follow are called ‘post-menopause’. The years leading up to menopause are called ‘perimenopause’. These years come with a rollercoaster of emotions and changes to our bodies, but they are not menopause.

Let’s explore the basics of menopause including signs, causes and effective management strategies. If diagnosed and handled properly, menopause doesn’t have to suck.

So, buckle up because what follows is the essential information you need to navigate through this transformative phase.

How do you know it’s peri or post-menopause?

Not all women experience symptoms or intensity the same. Like pregnancy and menstruation, we all have our own unique journey. However, there are several common signs that you are close to peri or post-menopause that many women experience to one degree or another:

  • Hot Flashes: A sudden feeling of intense heat, often accompanied by sweating and flushing of the face and upper body.
  • Night Sweats: Episodes of excessive sweating during sleep that can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Vaginal Dryness: Reduced estrogen levels can cause thinning and dryness of vaginal tissues, leading to discomfort during sexual intercourse.
  • Mood Changes: Many women experience mood swings, irritability, anxiety, or depression during menopause.
  • Sleep Disorders: Insomnia, night waking, and other sleep disturbances are common due to hormonal fluctuations.
  • Changes in Sexual Function: Reduced estrogen levels may affect sexual desire and arousal, leading to changes in sexual function.

These are only a few of over 80 potential issues women can face during menopause.

When it comes to menopause, what you don’t know can hurt you.

Menopause has been designated a phase of life, not a disease but does that mean everything that happens during menopause is normal or healthy? Not at all. In fact, we need to be aware there are certain health risks as our estrogen declines.

Estrogen plays a protective role in maintaining bone density, so decreased levels increase the risk of osteoporosis. Menopausal women also have an increased risk of heart disease, weight gain, and certain types of cancers.

Estrogen also protects vital organs which is why cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women. (CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). However, with proper healthcare and lifestyle modifications, these risks can be minimized and managed.

Managing menopause

Lifestyle modifications can have a tremendous impact on some of the more common complaints women have. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can alleviate menopausal symptoms and reduce health risks.

  • Regular exercise, a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, and stress reduction techniques such as yoga or meditation are beneficial.
  • Hormone Therapy (HT): For severe symptoms, hormone therapy can be considered. HT involves taking estrogen or a combination of estrogen and progesterone to replace declining hormone levels. However, it is essential to discuss the potential risks and benefits with a healthcare professional.
  • Non-Hormonal Treatments: Various non-hormonal treatments are available to manage specific symptoms. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may help with hot flashes, and vaginal lubricants or estrogen creams can alleviate vaginal dryness. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has also been shown to be effective.
  • Emotional Support: Menopause can be an emotionally challenging and lonely time. Seeking support from friends, family, or joining support and community groups can provide understanding and help to cope with the changes.

working out

You’re in charge.

During menopause, it is crucial to put yourself at the top of your ‘to-do’ list by prioritizing self-care and regular check-ups with your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that in North America, most healthcare practitioners have very little to no training in menopause. It was determined in the late 20th century that menopause is not a disease, therefore it wasn’t considered a medical condition and training wasn’t designed to address menopause.

While our healthcare providers may not have relevant training, they can refer you to specialists and resources that can provide the care and guidance needed. Ask your doctor about their knowledge and qualifications in menopausal care. If you aren’t satisfied, you can find certified physicians and practitioners at The North American Menopause Society. Whatever you do, don't let anyone tell you that you have to just suffer through it.

Screenings for breast cancer, heart disease, and bone density measurements are highly recommended. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight and regular, weight-bearing exercise are crucial for overall health, bone density and to help reduce symptoms like hot flashes. You'll also want to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

The Bright Side of Menopause

When the discussion turns to menopause, many women feel the heaviness of the topic. However, there are several bright sides to coming out on the other side of youth and fertility.

This is likely the first time in many women’s lives where they really explore and investigate their own health and options to feel healthier. This is when tests and assessments can expose issues hopefully before they become unmanageable. It is also a time most women report feeling free of emotional and societal constraints on their state of mind. Menopause can be very liberating. 

By understanding the health risks, and management options, women can navigate menopause with confidence and their sanity intact. Seek guidance from healthcare professionals, prioritize self-care, and embrace the support of loved ones. I make sure that everyone in my house knows how to talk about menopause openly. We're all in this together!

Menopause may mark the end of one stage, but it also signifies the beginning of a new and empowering chapter in a woman's life. Now that women are living longer than ever, it's important to optimize the next phase which could last a few more decades. Why not enjoy them in optimal health.


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