By: Dr. Sarah de la Torre, OB/GYN
For most people, menopause is a decidedly unsexy topic.
But with approximately 38 million women at or reaching menopause, that hardly seems fair. Why should such a huge proportion of our population have to feel less-than-great about something as natural as menopause?
We think it's time to flip the script. Let's start by dispelling the biggest myth about menopause.
Menopause is NOT a bad thing.
When you know what your symptoms are and how to deal with them, it becomes much easier to see menopause for what it really is — an exciting time of personal growth, unparalleled freedom and sky-high confidence like you've never experienced. (Not even in your 20s.)
What is menopause?
Beside everyone thinking menopause is inherently awful, one of the other major myths about menopause is that it only happens to women over 50. But let's take a look at the official definition of menopause according to the National Institute of Health.
"Menopause is the time in a woman's life when her period stops. It usually occurs naturally, most often after age 45. Menopause happens because the woman's ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone. A woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for one year. Changes and symptoms can start several years earlier."
When most people hear the word 'menopause', they think of that dreaded time in a woman's life where she goes from young and vivacious to a cranky and old. But that's just plain inaccurate.
Many women report feeling more vibrant than ever before during their menopausal years. And as the above definition points out, even women in their 30s can experience menopause.
What is perimenopause?
The average age for menopause is 51.2 but women can experience symptoms of menopause within the five to 15 year period leading up to menopause, called perimenopause.
This means that some of us will experience symptoms of menopause as early as our mid to late 30s, and most of us will have no idea what's going on.
Due to the changing levels of estrogen and progesterone, testing for perimenopause can be tricky. If you think you have any of the following symptoms of menopause or perimenopause, don't worry. There are a number of ways you can alleviate these symptoms (more on that below!).
- Hot flashes
- Irregular periods
- Poor sleep
- Mood changes (such as increased irritability, anger or anxiety)
- Low sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal laxity
- Painful intercourse
- Bone loss
- Decreased fertility
- And more.
Remember, perimenopause and menopause are NOT just about having to deal with annoying symptoms.
Many women feel like this time of life is extremely liberating. After years of insecurity and self-consciousness, many menopausal women note that they finally begin to care less about what others think and most importantly, they start to put their own health and wellbeing in the spotlight.
How to treat menopause
Whether you're 30 or 50, you have rocked your life as a woman for decades. Menopause and perimenopause are nature's celebration of that fact. But let's be honest, hot flashes and mood changes are no one's definition of fun.
There are many ways you can experience more of the joy (and less of the pain) of menopause. First, start by challenging your own beliefs about menopause. We recommend Dr. Christiane Northup's #1 New York Times bestseller, The Wisdom of Menopause as a fantastic place to start reframing the way you think about menopause.
A change in mindset may be one of your most helpful tools for enjoying menopause, but there are also plenty of additional treatment options. Recommended treatments can include lifestyle changes with nutrition, exercise and stress management as well as supplements and possibly hormone therapy.
Lifestyle changes are vital with eating a healthy diet, getting exercise, managing stress well and staying sexually active. Avoiding hot environments, beverages and spicy food can also help alleviate some of the common symptoms of hot flashes.
For some women, alternative medicine such as plant estrogens, yoga and hypnotherapy have been incredibly helpful in alleviating the symptoms of menopause. If you have any questions about the right treatment for you, schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk through your options.
With the right mindset and care, there's no reason "the change" can't be just another milestone in a full and exciting life.