Menopause is the great equalizer. It doesn't care what your occupation is, which political party you identify with, what your religious background is, what the color of your skin is, or whether you are in the 1 percent or 99 percent economically. Everyone in it is facing the same fundamental challenging symptoms and health issues regardless of social and financial standing, where they live, or any aspect of where they were raised. Got a vagina or know someone who does? Welcome aboard! We are in the same big boat together, and I want to share my story with you.
My story began in my 40s. I couldn't sleep, my mind would freeze mid-sentence, and my emotions were out of control -- I was a total bitchface! As if that wasn't enough, in the middle of my business meetings I would stand up to find that my entire outfit was suddenly drenched. My libido was crashing and for some reason my shmirshky (vagina) had taken a trip to the Sahara Desert. It was parched and dry. On a scale of 1-10, I was functioning at a 2, which left me scared, mortified and depressed.
After many sleepless nights of researching my symptoms and reaching out to the sisterhood, I figured out I was in perimenopause -- a word I had never heard before. Perimenopause is the 6- to 10-year symptom-laden time before you reach menopause. You have reached menopause when you have not menstruated for a full year (the average age of menopause is 51). Back it all up and you find that perimenopause generally begins between the ages of 38 and 48 years young! Some women, like supermodel Karolina Kurkova, find they have a thyroid condition that can cause them to go into early menopause at the age of 24! Early menopause can happen to anyone.
Why had no one ever told me about this?
Are you experiencing any of these symptoms? Has your lover, mother, aunt, sister, friend or coworker encountered them? Did your mom ever sit you down and tell you about what happens when the period starts to pack up and leave?
Three letters changed my life: HRT. No, it is not an abbreviation for heart, although I do love my heart. HRT (hormone replacement therapy), also know as HT (hormone therapy) comes in many forms and styles, but more than likely you will not read much about this in the fashion magazines.
In the 1990s, researchers began a large U.S.-sponsored study focused on women taking Prempro (a combination of non-bioidentical estrogen/progestin) as well as a study on women taking just Premarin (non-bioidentical estrogen only). The Prempro study was stopped in 2002 as it was linked to higher risks for heart attacks and breast cancer. As you might expect, the major news outlets made a very big deal of this, and news headlines were broadcast everywhere warning of the horrible side effects. These media flashes caused most women to flush their synthetic hormones down the toilet! Then in 2004, the Premarin study was halted after researchers detected stroke and blood clot risks in that group. The same thing occurred at that point -- headlines and more headlines!
Most women are too busy to read the actual studies, or too overwhelmed by the nature of their content. Instead, they respond to media soundbites and often mistakenly let these small bits of information determine the course of their health care. Here are a few from back in 2002:
For about 10 years now, these headlines and the "common knowledge" regarding the use of HRT scared untold numbers of women away from any form of HRT. Of course, in our lawsuit-crazy society, many doctors ran away from prescribing HRT even faster than their patients.
Now in 2012, revised research and interpretations of that research has finally come to light. We find ourselves with a whole new set of headlines and media flashes very different from those 10 years ago.
Here are some of the latest soundbites:
Right about now, you may feel like you've had your fill of soundbites and are so confused and frustrated that you want to "bite" someone!
Many of the principal investigators of the WHI now agree that they did not do such a great job reporting the outcomes of the study in 2002. Shockingly, there are many doctors out there that are not aware of the new studies, their findings and revised guidelines. Dr. Henry Burger, a consultant and endocrinologist at the Melbourne clinic, Jean Hailes for Women's Health, said few doctors other than specialists were aware of newer research indicating HRT was safer than previously thought: "The regulatory authorities act as if that was never published.'' Professor Burger said menopause was not trivial: ''At least 10 per cent of women will have symptoms for 10 years or more and they're very disabling. It's a huge threat to women's quality of life. One of the major problems is interrupted sleep, which makes people tired, irritable and depressed. People with bad flushes get them every half an hour.''
Leave the soundbites behind, save the bites for dessert and arm yourself with the latest accurate information. Together with your perimenopause and menopause specialist, evaluate your own risks and benefits and get the help you need and deserve.
A lot has been discovered over the past 10 years. Here is a CliffsNotes version:
- HRT (HT) is the most effective treatment available for some menopausal symptoms. (Science Codex)
(To read more, here is the full 2012 Position Statement from NAMS.)
Hopefully, one day, talking about perimenopause and menopause will be in style and regularly addressed in all women's magazines.
I am always here for you at www.shmirshky.com if you have any questions or simply need a virtual hug! Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
Ellen Dolgen is the author of Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness -- a cut-to-the-chase guidebook on perimenopause and menopause.