It’s true: The majority of women worry about the symptoms of menopause. Many look to that stage of their lives with mistrust, and even great fear, in part because of the myths that surround menopause.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you become adequately informed, you can enter menopause without groundless worry and anxiety, and perhaps even with optimism as this new phase of life begins.
What exactly is menopause?
According to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH), menopause is the time when menstruation stops. It’s considered to have “arrived” if for 12 consecutive months you haven’t had a period.
Menopause happens because the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone, two fundamental hormones in the menstrual cycle.
The most significant thing about menopause is that a woman can no longer become pregnant.
Symptoms of menopause
The symptoms of menopause, which is popularly known as the “change of life,” start around the age of 51, on average, according to the OWH. Although some begin to notice changes as early as 40, but for others, not until the age of 55.
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These are some typical symptoms of menopause that affect most women, although not everyone will experience all of them to the same degree, or in the same way:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal and urinary problems
- Mood swings
- Changing feelings about sex
5 myths about menopause that cause the most concern
1) Having menopause symptoms means that your sex life is over
Dr. Russell R. Hoffman, an obstetrician/gynecologist from New Jersey, says the opposite is true: “It shouldn’t be that way, on the contrary, in this stage it should be better. Since you don’t have to worry about pregnancy, and the consequences are not the same, there is less stress and you can better enjoy sex.”
While he does note: “It is true, many women have difficulties during sexual relations because of vaginal dryness, but that can be remedied.”
Changes in sexuality during menopause are due to a lower production of certain hormones. This makes vaginal tissue dry out, and become thinner.
In addition, hot flashes and night sweats during menopause can also interfere with sleep, so a woman may sometimes feel too tired for sex, and the emotional ups and downs of menopause may also leave her feeling stressed.
In spite of all of this, it doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the woman’s sex life.
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The Office of Women’s Health advises that the following treatment options and medications to ease menopause symptoms may be helpful:
- Vaginal application of estrogen cream
- Tablets or rings
- Hormone therapy (although there is no scientific evidence that this treatment increases sexual desire)
Dr. Hoffman adds to the list a non-surgical ambulatory procedure that he performs called ThermiVa designed to tone the vagina, and the vaginal labia, by means of radio frequencies. “It doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t require anesthesia, there is no recovery period, and it is done in half an hour,” he explains.
2) Menopause hot flashes last only for one year
This is also a myth about one of the best-known symptoms of menopause.
According to the National Institute on Aging, hot flashes may be experienced before menopause, and even several years afterward. They can go from very mild to really intense, to the point of waking you up in the middle of the night. They generally last between 30 seconds to 10 minutes. They may be followed by sweats and chills.
Dr, Hoffman points out that each woman’s body is different, and some women complain more about hot flashes in the first year of menopause, but everything seems to indicate that if you know what triggers your hot flashes you can control them better.
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The Office of Women’s Health offers some examples of what can trigger hot flashes during menopause:
- Spicy food
- Hot places
To alleviate hot flashes when they start, the following tips are suggested:
- Dress in layers, that way you can remove them when you feel hot or cold.
- Place a fan at home or in the workplace.
- Breathe deeply and slowly when the hot flashes start.
- According to a recent study, losing weight may help if you are overweight.
- Ask the doctor if low-dose birth control pills, or hormone therapy, is a suitable option for you.
3) Menopause causes weight gain
The answer is neither an absolute yes, nor a definite no.
Dr. Hoffman explains that almost always there is weight gain during menopause because metabolism slows down.
He tells us that some of his patients say that they put on pounds in spite of eating “like birds.” In order not to gain weight during and after menopause, he advises doing 40 minutes to 1 hour of aerobic exercise 5-7 days a week. By exercising vigorously five days a week, on the sixth and seventh days you can then be more at liberty to eat whatever you want.
According to studies by the Mayo Clinic, hormonal changes are not the sole cause of weight gain during menopause, lack of sleep may also contribute to weight gain because when you don’t get enough sleep there is a tendency to eat more between meals, and therefore consume more calories.
4) The later you started menstruating, the later you’ll go into menopause
This is another myth.
Dr. Hoffman says that if a woman starts menstruating very early that doesn’t necessarily mean she will have an early menopause.
“It depends on many factors, among them the woman’s health, smoking, and genetics. That is to say, when the mother, or the majority of the other women in the family, have entered this stage in life must be taken into account.”
Information from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) also points out that there is a previous stage called perimenopause during which the body starts sending signals to indicate that menopause is approaching, but years could go by before the last menstruation takes place.
5) Depression is inevitable during menopause
“Depression is common in this stage of life for women, but it can be avoided,” says Dr. Hoffman. And he adds that a daily routine such as work lowers the odds of experiencing symptoms of depression, although genetic factors, as well as certain negative experiences in life, can trigger it.
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To keep depression at bay, Dr. Hoffman recommends:
- Eating well.
- Doing exercise.
- Maintaining a routine, be it work or another activity.
- If there are symptoms, go to a psychologist before the situation worsens.
According to NAMS, the factors that can raise the risk of depression during menopause are:
- Sleeping deprivation
- Anxiety or being at a high risk for depression
- Weight gain
- Early menopause
- Menopause caused by surgical removal of the ovaries
The Office of Women’s Health offers a helpful menopause symptom tracker so you can take control of the changes happening during this stage. To access it, click here.
Menopause is a normal process all women go through. Get informed, and talk to your doctor if you have questions. Put aside the myths and “old wives tales,” and don’t believe anything that isn’t based on science.
For more information, visit the Office of Women’s Health or call their toll-free hotline at 1-800-994-9662.