Monday Medical: Myths about menopause
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Although every woman experiences menopause, there are some common misconceptions about it. Below, Dr. Jeff Chamberlain, an OB/GYN with UCHealth Women’s Care Clinics in Steamboat Springs and Craig, clears up a few myths about menopause.
What: Menopause: What you should know now
When: 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29
Where: UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center conference rooms, 1024 Central Park Drive
More info: RSVP and for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.
• Menopause only affects the ovaries: Menopause is a natural process by which menstrual cycles stop, but its impacts are far-reaching.
“Your ovaries have been producing a certain amount of estrogen for decades, and now they’re suddenly producing much less,” Chamberlain said. “That affects the whole body, from the brain to the heart to the blood vessels.”
• My period will just stop one day: Menopause is defined as having no period for a full year. But, during the years leading up to menopause, changes to the menstrual cycle are common. Periods may be longer, shorter or skipped entirely.
• I don’t need to worry if my periods get heavier: Changes in menstrual flow can be a result of menopause, but you should always discuss those changes with your doctor.
“Some women are confused about whether they’re supposed to have more or less bleeding,” Chamberlain said. “You shouldn’t be having more bleeding. If you are, you need to have that looked into as it could be a sign of endometrial cancer.”
• All hot flashes feel the same: About three-quarters of American women will have hot flashes. On average, women experience hot flashes for about five years, though they may persist for up to ten years.
“Hot flashes can be anything from nonexistent to super debilitating,” Chamberlain said. “How someone experiences them can be compounded by mood changes.”
• If I have hot flashes, I have to grin and bear it: “Hot flashes take place when changes in blood vessel dilation and contraction gets out of whack,” Chamberlain said. “But hormone therapy helps with that.”
Acupuncture and other natural remedies can also help. “A few natural herbs — black cohosh, red clover, ginseng and kava — act like estrogen,” Chamberlain said. “They help some people more than others, but you have to be careful to make sure they’re safe for you and that the dosing is right.”
• Estrogen is natural, so taking it doesn’t have side effects: All hormone therapies have possible side effects and risks, such as increased risk of blood clots.
For women who have not had their uterus removed, estrogen and progesterone should be taken together, as estrogen alone increases risk of uterine cancer, polyps and other uterine issues. Progesterone also has risks, such as increased risk of breast cancer.
“You have to consider all of these possibilities and the risks,” Chamberlain said. “Which is why it’s important to work with your doctor on an individualized approach.”
• Not taking hormones has no risk: Forgoing hormone therapy has risks of its own, as decreased estrogen levels can contribute to osteoporosis, dementia and heart disease, among other issues. “Taking hormones can help with all of these long-term issues,” Chamberlain said.
• Sex is not enjoyable after menopause: While menopause can result in vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse, those issues can be treated. Hormone therapies are a first-line treatment, and hormone creams can be used for a more localized approach.
• Mood changes are just in my head: With menopause, mood changes such as irritability, anxiety, fatigue and depression are two-and-a-half times more common. “Don’t ignore it, and don’t be ashamed by it,” Chamberlain said. “It’s something we can definitely address.”
Medications help, as do other treatments. “Stress reduction, deep breathing, massage and living a healthy lifestyle can all make a difference,” Chamberlain said. “You can follow a several-pronged attack.”
To figure out what’s best for you, your provider is your best resource.
“OB/GYNs are trained to help guide women through this process,” Chamberlain said. “We consider their past medical histories and current symptoms and help create a plan that works best for each individual.”
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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