Menopause — the change of life — can be a period of confusion and disorientation for many women. One reason: Many myths and mysteries surround this natural life passage for women, brought on by a reduction in key hormones tied to mood, weight, libido, and sleep.
The good news is that women don’t have to suffer, notes Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an OB/GYN at Mount Kisco Medical Group in Westchester, N.Y., in a recent interview on Newsmax TV’s “Meet The Doctors” program. She, and nationally known wellness expert Erika Schwartz, M.D., say that it’s critically important for women — and men — to understand what’s going on with their bodies as they grow older and recognize the many misconceptions about menopause.
“First of all, it’s really important to understand that menopause is not a disease,” says Dr. Dweck. “It’s a natural state that we all go through and I think we have to think of that way so we don’t make it so scary and taboo of a subject.”
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To help women and men understand the mysteries of menopause, Drs. Dweck and Schwartz — the author of Dr. Erika’s Healthy Balance
newsletter — have identified a handful of myths and truths about the change of life that are often not addressed by conventional doctors or the mainstream media.
What is Menopause? “By definition menopause means a time where you have not had a menstrual cycle for a full year’s time,” notes Dr. Dweck. “It also means you’re depleted in estrogen because your ovaries are no longer producing so much estrogen or any estrogen at all. You no longer can get pregnant. Therefore contraception is no longer needed.”
What are the most common symptoms? Many women experience hot flashes, night sweats, heart palpitations, weight gain, sleep loss, depression, a decline in sex drive, and other symptoms. But as Dr. Dweck notes, some have none whatsoever. “Some women really suffer with a gamut of symptoms from menopause,” she says. “But I think it’s important to know that some women have absolutely no symptoms at all, [they] float through and you really never hear about them.”
When does menopause typically begin? The onset of menopause generally takes place at an average age of 51, but the exact age varies from individual to individual. Some women experience the first signs of menopause as early as 40 or as late as 60. “The truth is that the symptoms of loss of hormones start up to a decade, if not earlier, before you stop having a period,” explains Dr. Schwartz. “If we eliminated the term menopause and dealt with the symptoms and what’s going on with our patients … we’d probably do a lot better because then … it would just be, look, there are some changes you’re going through, how are we going to address them?”
Are symptoms treatable? One of the biggest misconceptions about menopause is that women have to simply grin and bear the symptoms, Dr. Schwartz says. But treatments — including the use of biodentical hormones to boost deficiencies of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and other hormones — are available. “I don’t think we should suffer through anything. I mean, if this happened to men, do you think that we would suffer through anything?” she jokes.
“Seriously, no there’s no reason to suffer. First of all, it’s a matter of identifying what the cause of the problem is. Instead of just treating the hot flash, it’s really finding out what’s causing the hot flash. Is the hot flash caused by the fact that you’re now dropping your estrogen? Are you getting [symptoms] because you’re not making good enough progesterone? Are you gaining weight because your thyroid [function] is low? All of these things are happening at the same time [and we must] really encourage women to NOT accept grin-and-bear-it as a concept.”
Are hot flashes a bigger concern? Dr. Schwartz also points out that some symptoms of menopause can be signs of a significant hormone deficiency or a deeper problem, noting women who experience a lot of hot flashes may face increased heart disease risks. “There is scientific literature that connects the frequency of hot flashes to the incidence of heart disease in the long run, over 10 years or so,” she says. “So if you prevent that and lower the incidence of hot flashes by giving them medication and hormones to lower their hot flashes … they’ll feel great.”
Does menopause always lower libido? Another myth about menopause is that it lowers a woman’s sex drive. While hormonal changes can sometimes cause a drop in libido, many can continue to have a satisfying sex life long after menopause.
As Dr. Dweck explains, the onset of menopause is usually gradual, so most women have time to plan, prepare, and work with their doctors to address symptoms.
“This is a transition, it doesn’t happen from one day to the next … it can really occur over a period of 10 years of time,” she notes.
She adds that it’s important for men, as well as women, to understand what’s happening during menopause — and to talk about it.
“I think communication is essential so that women communicate with their male partners, spouses...and let them know they are going through some changes so that they will be prepared,” she says.
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