Don't suffer in silence. That's the bottom line when it comes to menopause. There are more than 64 million women in menopause. And here's another Fun Fact: 1/3 of our lives will be spent in menopause. Isn't it time we all invested in getting smarter about menopause?
Getting the Facts About Menopause
This fall I sat down with a few experts to look into the crystal ball and see what's coming. I've always prided myself in being open to change and this one is unavoidable. Isn't it better if we support one another with facts and solutions.
I met with Drs. Kingsberg and Minkin (one a psychologist and one an MD) to get educated. Here's what I learned.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is a circle on the calendar. It's the one-year anniversary of the last period. Yep, menopause is basically an anniversary of our last period and we won't know it's happening until it's done. It's more of a destination than a medical condition. That being said, it can have a whole host of medical issues that go along with it.
Estrogen is the key. As the ovaries stop producing hormones, levels of circulating estrogen decrease. Fun Fact: The average age of menopause is 51.
What is Perimenopause
Perimenopause is the lead up to menopause. According to WebMd "It's the time when the ovaries gradually begin to make less estrogen." It can start in your 30s (or in rare cases earlier) but usually starts in a woman's 40s. The average length of perimenopause is four years.
During perimenopause we can expect to see irregular periods and might see periods that are heavier or lighter than normal.
Symptoms of Menopause and Perimenopause
The most reported symptoms of menopause are hot flashes and night sweats. 80% of women experience these symptoms. Women also report worse PMS and weight gain during the menopause years.
The symptoms of menopause and perimenopause can be quite similar. More of these include insomnia, fatigue and mood swings. I know, I know, it's a lot. But not every woman will get every symptom. It's more like an a la carte menu.
But, wait, there's more.
What Can Happen When You Arrive at Menopause
One of the big concerns around this next chapter is maintaining a healthy sex life. The shift in our hormones can effect how we experience sex. Unlike a lot of the other symptoms I've talked about so far, it can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about our sex drives with a doctor.
But it's up to us ladies. If we don't bring it up, it's unlikely the doctors will.
Night sweats, weight gain, mood swings, these can all seem easy to bring up, but for many of us, talking about sex wasn't how we were raised. Talking with my girlfriends is one thing, a doctor I see every few years is another altogether.
GSM & VVA
These are a lot of acronyms I'm throwing around. VVA: stands for Vulvar and Vaginal Atrophy. Yikes, that sounds bad. What causes VVA is estrogen loss. VVA means your vaginal tissue is getting thinner.
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It's a component of GSM which is genitourinary syndrome. The genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) is a new term that describes various menopausal symptoms and signs including not only genital symptoms (dryness, burning, and irritation), and sexual symptoms (lack of lubrication, discomfort or pain, and impaired function, but also urinary symptoms (urgency, dysuria, and recurrent urinary tract infections). This is all from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4561742/
Though half the population has symptoms of GSM, only 7% of these women will be treated with prescription therapy. If we arm ourselves with knowledge, we can can get better results.
Know the Signs of VVA
Let's start with the symptoms.
- Pain associated with sex
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal itching
- Painful urination
- Vaginal bleeding with sex
Help for Menopause Symptoms
Getting started means having a conversation. If you are experiencing any of these, you need to share your symptoms with your doctor. Prescriptions are safe and available. Feel empowered to ask your healthcare provider "What's your familiarity with addressing menopause?"
Dr. Minkin told me that there's an irrational fear of hormones out there. There was a 2017 study that put to rest the non-existent link between hormone therapy and breast cancer. I learned estrogen replacements can help many women with their symptoms.
Menopause doesn't mean an end to sex or your quality of life. Now is not the time to be invisible. Sadly, only 20% of current Ob/Gyn residents get trained in menopause medicine.
Learn more at menopause.org where you can plug in your zip code to find a doctor who can help you. This is a list of the North American Menopause Society practitioners.
There are also non-medical ways to relieve some menopause symptoms. No shocker here, but the list includes, exercise, quitting smoking, and drinking less.
I'll hope to weigh in with more information on Menopause, so let me know your questions.
For more information on menopause, visit https://www.findurcool.com/.
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This Getting Smarter About Menopause feature is not sponsored.