Menopause: Separating the Fact from the Fiction
If you ask women between the ages of 30 and 40 what they think about when they hear the word, “menopause,” you will undoubtedly get some mixed responses. Some worry about the physical symptoms, particularly the hot flashes. Others dread the roller coaster of emotions about to come.
A few try to avoid the issue of menopause altogether since the “change” is generally seen as an indication of aging. And who wants to grow old? If you are approaching those years of life when menopause will become a reality, it is time to get straight on what menopause really is all about.
What exactly is this great and mysterious transition? Before we define what menopause is, it is helpful to discuss what it is not. First, menopause is not a single event, but rather a series of symptoms and occurrences within the body, taking place during a period of a number of years. The process is complete once you have gone a full twelve months without a menstrual period. Second, menopause is not a disease, although many during the years have been guilty of treating it as such! Menopause is actually a normal, biological process every woman goes though. And today, most women can look forward to many happy, healthy years after the process has run its course.
Okay, we know we can’t get around menopause; we simply must go through it. The question then becomes, how do we survive those years as pleasantly and painlessly as possible? It seems to depend. Since every woman responds to the fluctuating hormones differently, each case needs to be treated on an individual basis. For example, Marilyn began having hot flashes in her late forties. These became disruptive to her daily life since they were generally accompanied by nausea and an overall feeling of malaise. Deborah started having extremely painful headaches a day or so prior to her menstrual cycle in the years leading up to her other menopause symptoms. Those headaches and the roller coaster of emotions were the hardest symptoms for her to deal with. Karen talked to her doctor about treatment options when the depression became more than she wanted to deal with. And Kaye managed to get through her menopausal years with few symptoms to speak of.
“Treatment of menopause needs to be on an individual basis,” said Ladean Cross, a certified Family Nurse Practitioner for more than 25 years. Since everyone responds differently to the hormone fluctuations, each woman who sees her doctor during menopause may have unique concerns and require treatment options customized to her individual situation. Cross added, “It is important to have a healthcare provider who listens to you as a person, and treats you — not a condition.” Make sure your provider listens to your concerns and complaints and responds to you appropriately. And keep an open mind when it comes to dealing with your menopausal symptoms, since medication is only one option for you to use.
Deborah found her mood swings were one of the most important symptoms she had to address. She explained, “You ask yourself, ‘why am I saying and doing these things?’ But you can’t stop.” She said that her daily, three-mile walk helped the most with keeping her emotions in check. Cross agreed that diet and exercise, as well as other lifestyle choices, can play a big part in surviving menopause as well. If you are not already in a good exercise habit, now is the time to get moving! Aerobic workouts also benefit your cardiovascular system, which is good news considering your risk of cardiovascular disease increases as your estrogen levels decrease. Strength training will keep your bones and muscles healthy in those postmenopausal years; a time when bone density tends to decrease and you run a higher risk of breaking bones.
Karen decided to take her doctor’s advice and try hormone replacement therapy (HRT), when the depression became more than she wanted to deal with. She said that while the HRT worked effectively on this symptom, it seemed to increase her incidence of migraine headaches. This caused her to go off of them after a period of time. She said the effects of menopause seemed much easier to deal with at this point, although she still has some issues with hot flashes and increased irritation over little things in life.
Cross said hot flashes are probably the number one complaint from the women she sees in her practice. Other common issues include irritation and depression, a decreased libido and concentration and memory problems. She said there are many options available in treatment of menopausal symptoms today, including pharmaceutical and “natural” HRT, as well as exercise, diet and lifestyle choices. The Mayo Clinic also provides a number of medications as possibilities. These different medicines can be used to effectively address emotional symptoms, hot flashes and the vaginal dryness, which are all concerns for women as they age.
There are also plenty of opportunities to find support as you are going through this very natural, but sometimes challenging, phase of life. Menopause support groups offer you a chance to hash out your concerns and (yes, indeed!) gripes with other women who have “been there, done that.” After all, no one else will understand your complaints as well as someone who is coming along side you in the process. One good resource to find a menopause support group is your doctor’s office or local health department. Online, you can do your own research at www.minniepauz.com, or www.menopause-online.com for lots of information, chat rooms and a bit of humor thrown in for good measure. There are also the Web sties www.webmd.com, www.mayoclinic.com, www.menopausetohealth.com. Cross also recommends the book, “The Wisdom of Menopause” by Christine Northrup, MD.
Menopause may be a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean that we have to take it lying down. Get up, get out there and take charge of your “change.” You go, girl.