Stigmas Around Menopause

Recently, one of my patients, Karen, came into my office. She was depressed and feeling overwhelmed. She relayed to me that she was feeling sluggish and irritable, gaining weight, especially in her mid-section, waking up at night, and suffering from brain fog – finding it hard to recall words, people’s names or places she visited. She was also very concerned about her work performance - having hot flashes during important business presentations and losing her train of thought. She was embarrassed and worried about losing her job in the corporate world.

Previously, she had seen her primary care doctor who, after doing some basic labs, said she was fine and just going through menopause. Karen asked, “Well, is there anything we can do about it?” Her doctor nodded grimly saying, “No, hormones are too dangerous – you will just need to live with it.” No wonder she felt despondent! Who wouldn’t with such a gloomy prognosis?

Hearing this story, I was both stunned and appalled. How can physicians in this day and age be so narrow minded in their knowledge and myopic in their vision that they are misleading the same patients who are trusting them to offer hope and guidance?

In my previous blogs, I’ve discussed what menopause is, what perimenopause is and why this transition is a natural occurrence in every woman’s life if she lives until the age of 51 – 52. Menopause is NOT a disease like the plague where women should feel shunned, avoided or deprived of clinically safe and proven methods of alleviating the symptoms.

Here are some interesting stats re. menopause:

  • Approximately 6,000 women in the United States reach menopause every day – over 2 million per year. 

  • An average of 27 million women between the ages of 45 and 64, or 20% of the American workforce, experience menopause each year.

  • Per the Wall Street Journal, women are continuing to work past traditional retirement age:  1 in 7 women in 2016, compared to 1 in 12 in 1992.

  • By 2018, nearly 31 million women in the menopausal age range will be employed.

  • 80% of those 31 million employed women will experience menopausal symptoms.

If you are experiencing symptoms of menopause, you can see - you are not alone!

Let’s get back to my patient, Karen. The first thing I asked Karen was when was her last period. She stated over 14 months prior – so by definition she was in menopause – 12 months without having a natural cycle. As you may recall, the 2-8 years prior to this time is called “peri-menopause” and many of the same symptoms can be experienced. The only difference is that a perimenopausal woman will continue having menstrual cycles, although most likely at irregular intervals.

I calmly explained to Karen that this is totally normal – she was NOT alone. Every woman goes through this transition – some sailing through it without a hot flash or night sweat, while others complain of extreme irritability, loss of emotional control, feeling like they’re going through early Alzheimer’s and missing work due to their symptoms. And in a small percentage of women (10-15%), these symptoms continue for the rest of their lives.

The great news? We can do something about it. Menopause does NOT need to be a time of sullen, morose, depression and a feeling of doom. Yes, it’s true that it means a woman can no longer have children and loses her reproductive potential. But it’s also a time where a woman can look at her life and finally start taking care of herself – setting her needs as a top priority. When I say this to my patients, their faces light up and they breathe a sigh of relief. “Really? I’m not crazy? I’m not going out of my mind?” One of the most common questions I hear every day!

Some of the other stigmas commonly surrounding menopause include:

  • Shame – menopause not discussed, feeling alone.

  • Embarrassment around symptoms – no one to talk to.

  • No longer feminine because no longer fertile.

  • Marker of getting older.

  • No longer attractive.

  • Feeling done with life – no purpose for life.

Recently, Viola Davis told Jimmy Kimmel that “menopause was hell."  Well, let me tell you – it does NOT have to be. I would love to have Viola Davis visit my office so I could help her through this transition – she and many others, including Karen, can be helped!

The first thing that you need to do is find the right provider who can give you options for managing your symptoms during this time – from lifestyle and diet changes to bio-identical hormone therapy. If a doctor is not up to speed regarding the most up-to-date clinical data about this, find a new one!

Many patients come to me because I have gone through this too! I’ve had to find the right answers for me and my own health given the diagnosis of Stage 1 Breast Cancer last year. As a woman and medical doctor, I have a special connection with my patients – treating them with respect and compassion and offering them the pros and cons of each treatment type.

No woman should be ushered out of an office being told there is no hope and nothing to be done. This is a natural transition and is NORMAL. Our society has fallen behind in the discussion about menopause and how we can embrace the aging process. And it can even be harder within the business community where some women find it difficult to discuss their symptoms in a male-dominated field of work.

I sincerely hope that you will share this blog with your friends and/or family members who might be experiencing these same symptoms.  

There is life before, during and after menopause! Just find the right doctor and start feeling AMAZING again! That’s the entire impetus behind creating the Amazing Over 40 website and Amazing Over 40 community – to educate, learn and share!

In health and happiness,

 Dr. Diana