When it comes to menopause, the only thing that’s clear to me is the lack of information and transparency on the topic. Last week I opened up the flood gates when I posted a few menopause related polls in my IG stories. Based on your responses, it could not be more clear that what we all want is ANSWERS. Questions like…What is perimenopause vs. menopause? How do I know if I’m in menopause? I’m only in my 30’s – could the symptoms I’m having be related to menopause? And of course…how do I control [fill in the blank] (e.g. hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, weight gain, etc)?
While I can’t claim to have all of the answers, hearing all of your questions made me realize how important it is to have more conversations on menopause. We’re all going through so much in this new stage of life and we all need support. We need to feel heard and what better way to do that than by creating a community among ourselves to share resources and information. Many of you might remember that I had a hysterectomy over 5 years ago to remove two complex cysts, a fibroid, and endometriosis (you can read more on that here: Hysterectomy at 40). Because I had a total hysterectomy (removing my uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes), my body went into immediate menopause (aka surgical menopause).
Over the course of the last 5 years, I’ve experienced menopause symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, and weight gain. I’m not currently on any type of hormone replace therapy (HRT). When I initially had my hysterectomy my doctor wanted to hold off for 6 months on prescribing estrogen due to my endometriosis. The reason is that estrogen can actually cause the endometriosis to grow back. The idea of living with the pain of endometriosis again terrifies me. Since then, I’ve made the personal choice to manage my systems naturally without hormones. In all honesty, I know I need to work more closely with my doctors to monitor my hormone levels since my surgery.
Disclosure: I’m not a medical professional. Any information I share is based on my own experience. Please always consult with your doctor for medical advice and treatments.
To kick off the menopause conversation, I wanted to start out by answering some of the more basic questions and sharing some resources I’ve picked up over the years. But don’t worry babes, over the next few months and beyond, I plan to continue the conversation with more answers and resources. So let’s talk MENOPAUSE!
Peri-Menopause and Menopause Symptoms
Menopause symptoms can vary from person to person. I’ve recently learned that the symptoms you experience can even vary based on the country you live in. Menopause symptoms can include:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- brain fog
- low libido
- sleep problems
- vaginal dryness
- weight gain
- mental and emotional symptoms (e.g. mood swings, rage, anxiety, depression)
- dry eyes
- itchy skin
- hair thinning
Perimenopause vs. Menopause?
What many don’t realize is that the symptoms for perimenopause and menopause are generally the same. The main differentiation between the stages are based on whether you have a period or not. During perimenopause, your body starts to produce less estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone which can result in irregular periods along with the symptoms above. Some might associate these changes with women in their 40’s and 50’s but there’s no set age for menopause. Once a woman has gone without having a period for 12 months, she has officially reached menopause.
Menopause Specialists and Treatment
If you feel that it’s hard to find a physician that truly understands menopause and how to treat it, you’re not alone. The reality is, many gynecologists don’t specialize in menopause treatment. It’s no wonder we often feel unheard. I recently discovered the North American Menopause Society which has tons of information and resources about menopause, including the ability to search for practitioners who have the NCMP credential or NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner. I don’t know about you babes, but at minimum I want to find a doctor who has specialized interest and education in menopause.
I’ve had the pleasure of attending a menopause symposium last March and another menopause educational event last month. Both events talked about treatment options including Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), herbal treatments, and non-hormonal medications. Since I personally haven’t started a treatment plan, I can’t speak in favor of any specific treatment but I feel compelled to mention that the unifying message at both events was the need to debunk the myth that HRT causes breast cancer.
Some of you may remember the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study back in 2002 that erroneously concluded that estrogen increases the risk of breast cancer in menopausal women. As a result of this, the percentage of women taking HRT dropped down to 5%. The problem with this, is that this statement wasn’t accurate. What the study actually proved was that women who took estrogen with synthetic progestin showed an increase of 1 additional breast cancer case per 1000 women, per year. What wasn’t publicized, was that the study also showed a decrease in breast cancer risk for women who had hysterectomies and took estrogen only. More importantly, what wasn’t tested during that study was the effects of taking estrogen with bioidentical progesterone. Newer studies have shown that women who take estrogen with bioidentical progesterone have no increased risk of breast cancer. Sadly, this erroneous messaging from WHI would go on to cause major damage to HRT treatment and research for menopausal woman for the next 20 years. To this day, patients and physicians who don’t specialize in menopause are still under the erroneous belief that HRT causes an increase risk of breast cancer and will often advise patients against taking HRT.
Not only does this false narrative prevent women from taking advantage of a treatment that can help with their menopausal symptoms, but it has prevented women from using estrogen treatment to help with other risks. Menopausal women are under increased risk of cardiovascular disease and taking estrogen has been found to improve heart health. Low estrogen is also linked to dementia and taking estrogen has been shown to improve cognitive health to help prevent dementia.
All this to say, do your research! There are treatment options out there. We don’t need to suffer in silence. It’s worth the effort to find the right menopause specialist and seek out the the latest and greatest treatment options. In the meantime, I have a few book recommendations for you:
And stay tuned, darlings! I’ll be back with more menopause chats soon 🙂