Women lead very busy lives. They spend time caring for their children, spouses, aging parents and often everyone else but themselves. As a gynecologist, I play an important role in helping these women transition to menopause.
Many women do not know what menopause actually means. The medical definition of menopause is one year without menses. This is a result of the decline in ovarian function in women, and the transition to menopause is called perimenopause, where women may begin to experience symptoms of menopause.
Because this stage can sometimes feel uncertain, I’ve made a list of the nine most common facts women may not know about menopause.
- Menopause is something you should plan for.
So many women have not planned for menopause. Women may also feel as though it is something that is going to happen that they don’t have much control over, and so they may not feel as though it is something for which they need to plan nor educate themselves. There is great benefit in learning about this stage of life and making decisions that can keep you healthy and happy.
- The average age for American women undergoing menopause is 51.
Often, I will ask women when they went through menopause and I get a variety of answers from, “I started in my 30s” to, “I never went through menopause.” It is usually premature for a women to enter menopause in her 30s; although, it may happen in a small percentage of patients with premature ovarian insufficiency.
- It’s more than just hot flashes.
The biggest misconception of menopause is that it just involves hot flashes. For the patient who says that they never went through menopause, she did not experience debilitating hot flashes, so that is why she responded the way she did. The reality is that not all women experience significant hot flashes during their transition to menopause.
- There are other solutions, aside from hormones.
Many women assume that they will have to start taking hormones once they enter menopause. Women are not automatically given hormone therapy; however, for women who experience severe menopausal symptoms such as severe hot flashes, hormone therapy can be extremely helpful in improving their quality of life.
- There is a rapid loss of bone density that occurs during the transition to menopause.
Bone loss is also overlooked by menopausal women. The thinning of the bones that occurs with menopause is usually not associated with symptoms, so many women are not aware of the extra care that is needed to help protect their bones. For this reason, is it even more important for women to take an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D, and adequate exercise to help protect their bones.
- Your body may experience a number of changes.
There are a variety of changes leading up to menopause including changes in skin, with thinning and drying of the skin, and joint pain or aches. I have had patients say, “I thought it was just me” when explaining some of their symptoms. Gynecologists can provide a safe space for women to discuss concerns that they may have that they do not feel comfortable discussing with their primary care physician or sometimes even their close friends.
Find out what you can do to stop the weight gain before your first hot flash.
- Mental health matters.
Of course there will be changes with your body, but mental health can also be important to evaluate for women prior to menopause. Menopausal women have an increased risk for depression, or difficulty remembering things or concentrating. Hot flashes are more common at night and many menopausal women will suffer with difficulty sleeping. This lack of adequate sleep can also intensify mood symptoms and take a toll on your quality of life.
- Cardiovascular disease is more common in women after menopause.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, and it is more common in women after menopause due to estrogen deficiency, increasing age, or changing cholesterol levels. During this stage of life, women can evaluate their habits and make necessary changes to improve their health. Keep in mind, heart disease is more common in women over age 55, women who smoke, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or who have a family history of early heart disease.
- You can seek gynecologic care.
Many menopausal women do not seek gynecologic care because they associate seeing a gynecologist with only their reproductive years. If you’re wondering about menopause, talking with your doctor is a great way to get the answers you need.
For those interested, visit BaylorHealth.com/menopause to sign up for a free “Surviving Menopause Seminar” to better plan for and adapt to menopause.