Hot flashes, weight gain, mood swings and insomnia. If you’re not going through menopause already, these are the side effects you have to look forward to.
But “the change” doesn’t have to be as awful as you’ve been led to believe.
In the interview below, Dr. Lauren F. Streicher, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the author of “The Essential Guide to Hysterectomy”, explains how you can control menopause symptoms. The most shocking advice? Hormone therapy isn’t as evil as you’ve been told.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about menopause?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that every woman thinks she’ll have symptoms. Not everyone does. The second is that most women think menopause is something that ends. They think, “I’ll have hot flashes for awhile, then I’ll be done with it.” But you aren’t done with menopause until you die. Menopause is when ovaries are no longer producing estrogen. It’s a stage of life, not a certain time period that will end when the symptoms end.
But hot flashes do stop at some point, don’t they?
Not always. For some women, hot flashes go away within a few years. But some women have them their whole lives.
What’s the best way to stop hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause?
The first thing you need to figure out is what problems you want to address. Is it hot flashes? Is it vaginal dryness? Is it insomnia? What can you live with and what can’t you stand any more? Some women I see have debilitating hot flashes. They’re practically walking around naked. I walk through all the options. The first is to do nothing at all. The symptoms may go away. But if that doesn’t happen, and the hot flashes are unbearable, women can try medications. Certain antidepressants, especially Effexor, have been proven effective. Another option is hormone therapy.
But so many women have been told to avoid hormone therapy because a big study in 2002 found it led to breast cancer.
That study was extremely flawed. People don’t understand what makes a study scientifically valid. Enough people need to be in it. The study needs to be double blind. And it needs to last at least 12 weeks. Doctors who really read that study know that hormones can be beneficial. For the majority of women, they are safe and reasonable. People are so fearful of breast cancer, but really, even if you take hormones, you’re more likely to drop dead from heart disease or obesity. Eighty percent of breast cancer patients are women who have never taken hormones.
So why do so many women believe the myth that hormone therapy will give you cancer?
The media is partially to blame. When that study came out, they printed it as the gospel truth. Another problem is that most doctors don’t know much about menopause. You get one to two hours of training about menopause in medical school. Internists and primary care physicians simply don’t know. And most ob/gyns are trained to deliver babies, not deal with menopause. And then, of course, women do a lot of research on the web and end up with inaccurate information swimming around in their heads.
So what should women who are experiencing bad side effects from menopause do?
The North American Menopause Society has a list of certified menopause doctors on their web site. These doctors specialize in menopause. There are quite a few of us in Chicago. Or, ask your hospital for a referral. The worst person to ask for advice is probably an internist. And whatever you do, don’t rely on Angie’s List for a referral. That’s a good web site for plumbers, not doctors.