The Lingering Myths of Menopause

“Even though menopause seems to be discussed everywhere now that baby boomers are coming of age, I’m amazed by how misinformed people still are about this time in a woman’s life”.

MYTH: Once menopause begins, it lasts for the rest of a woman’s life.
FACT: The formal definition of menopause is the cessation of a woman’s menstrual periods. However, women are not considered technically menopausal until they have not had a period for one full year. Menopause is actually the culmination of changes in the ovaries that begins as early as the mid- to late thirties and continues for several years after the last menstrual flow. During menopause, 78 to 85 percent of women experience hot flashes and other symptoms for two to five years.
MYTH:
Menopause affects a small number of women each year.
FACT: There are approximately 45 million women over the age of 45 in the United States and approximately 1.5 million enter menopause each year. Women enter menopause at the average age of 51; however, some women may experience a premature menopause in their twenties or thirties, while others may not stop menstruating until their late fifties. Each year about 600,000 women, typically between the ages of 40 to 45, experience surgical menopause following the removal of the ovaries (usually as part of a hysterectomy or removal of the uterus). Women who smoke can have earlier menopause because smoking lowers the levels of estrogen in blood.
MYTH:
Menopause causes depression.
FACT: Menopause does not cause depression in most women. Research has shown that only 10 percent of menopausal women reported occasional depression, the same percentage reported in the general population.
MYTH:
All woman experience hot flashes.
FACT: The types of menopausal symptoms that women experience vary from culture to culture and woman to woman. Although there are a small number of European and American women who don’t experience hot flashes during menopause, about 75 to 85 percent do experience them, compared to less than 15 percent of Japanese women who report experiencing hot flashes.
MYTH:
There is no way to avoid hot flashes.
FACT: Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) can reduce the frequency of hot flashes or even eliminate them, in some cases. Avoiding the triggers of hot flashes, such as drinking a warm beverage, eating spicy foods, sitting in a hot room, or drinking alcohol, can also help.

The Issue of Hormone Replacement Therapy

Women need to ask their health care providers about the health risks associated with horomone replacement therapy (HRT), about which risks will by helped or worsened, and whether HRT should be considered for short-term relief of symptoms and/or for prevention of conditions associated with aging. An excellent reference that addresses many frequently asked questions regarding HRT is as follows:

A Host Of Changes

Declining estrogen during menopause brings on a host of bodily changes with accompanying symptoms, including vasomotor instability (hot flashes), and vaginal and genital atrophy. During a woman’s thirties and forties, bone loss occurs and accelerates rapidly when estrogen levels plummet in the first 10 years after menopause. Most women are unaware of the bone loss until a hip, vertebral, or wrist fracture occurs and osteoporosis is diagnosed-sometimes as late as 20 to 30 years after menopause. The development of heart disease increases dramatically with declining estrogen, and quite like the development of osteoporosis, often goes unrecognized until the first heart attack.

Progesterone and testosterone also decrease with declining ovarian function, which affects a woman’s moods, energy levels, and libido. Estrogen deficiency also contributes to neurodegenerative brain changes associated with aging and AD (Sherwin, 1996).