Myth 1: Menopause begins at 51
On average, menopause begins for most women at 51. However, it’s a process in which symptoms can come and go, making it difficult to determine the start date. The most important thing to remember is that menopause can be very different for every woman depending on age, genetics, environmental issues, and even race.
Myth 2: Hot flashes are the first sign of menopause
Hot flashes can occur years prior to menopause during a period known as perimenopause. While menopause is technically defined by a one-year absence of a monthly period, hot flashes occur for an average of 4 years or longer. Menopause symptoms last an average of 7 years. Other than hot flashes, symptoms of menopause include:
- Irregular periods, light or very heavy menses
- Anxiety, irritability, mood swings, depression
- Weight gain, cravings
- Sleep issues
- Hair loss
- Fuzzy thinking, forgetfulness
- Low libido
Myth 3: Weight gain is unavoidable during menopause
Menopause doesn’t automatically equal 20 extra pounds. Women just notice weight gain because of all the other changes of menopause. Weight gain is likely to happen if women don’t alter physical activity in relation to diet. Hormonal imbalances of menopause can also add to the problem as the body responds by protecting itself by storing more fat. The only way around it is to watch what you eat and push yourself to be more active. It’s what everyone tells you but no one wants to hear, more exercise and better diet. As a bonus, better nutrition can help regulate hormones, protect bones and keep you heart healthy.
Myth 4: Hormone replacement therapy is dangerous
There is a lot of misinformation about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and that is largely because of unreliable results from early HRT studies. While there are definitely women who should avoid HRT (like breast cancer survivors), there are others that believe it helps their symptoms enormously.
Myth 5: HRT is the only treatment available for menopause symptoms
There are actually a variety of options available beyond hormone replacement. It’s important to discuss the risks and benefits of these possibilities with your physician. There are certain antidepressants, and medications for neurological and diabetic nerve pain for menopause treatment that can be prescribed by your physician. Natural products — though not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration for safety and efficacy — include soy, vitamin E and black cohosh. Vaginal creams can work for moisture, PH balance and the thinning skin in the vagina. Acupuncture, reflexology and increased exercise have all been evidentially effective for multiple symptoms. I also recommend wearing layered clothing, increasing cold drinks, decreasing air temperature especially at night, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol. Hot flashes can be very disturbing for women and disrupt their daily life, so why not try anything available that is not a danger to the patient.
Myth 6: Emotional symptoms of menopause are all in your head
Talk to your doctor about what you’re feeling. Women might not see psychological issues as pertinent to talk to their doctors about, but do discuss them with your GYN, especially if you don’t see another primary care physician. Some women think we only deal with certain aspects of the female body, but OB/GYNs deal treat the whole woman.
Dr. Arelis Figueroa, a Crescent City Physicians obstetrician and gynecologist, supports her patients through pregnancy and beyond, helping new moms establish healthy practices that benefit their families. A native of Puerto Rico, she speaks Spanish and English, working with patients whose language barriers might have otherwise kept them from getting care.