Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Don't fall for those menopause myths

Menopause Milita Member ChantsImage by acaben via Flickr

There are so many myths and misconceptions about the menopause it's no wonder that women can get confused.

Referring to it as "the change" makes it sound like a sudden and terrifying event - but life is a series of gradual changes, of which the menopause is a natural part.

One of the scary things you may be told is that your memory will never be the same but this isn't strictly true.

A study from the University of California found that any forgetfulness is only temporary for most women and learning ability returns to normal after the menopause.

This is good news for the 60% of women who report memory problems. My brain was certainly affected by the menopause initially, becoming something of a black hole. I would forget what I was saying in the middle of a sentence - which is bad news on live television!

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) helped but I also kept my mind active by engaging and challenging it every day. I even learned a new language.

You may be surprised at the amount of misinformation surrounding the menopause. It isn't always easy to cope but knowing the difference between fact and fiction can make it a whole lot easier.


All women will suffer unpleasant symptoms
Most women get one or two of the most common symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats, but many sail through the menopause with no problems at all.

Branding of "the change" as some kind of nightmare leads women to fear and dread it unnecessarily.

In countries such as Japan, where age is revered and older women are respected, fewer physical and psychological symptoms are reported.

I feel negative attitudes towards the menopause and ageing in the West have an adverse effect on women here.

You'll put on weight
Women do tend to put on weight at the menopause but it's partly due to a slower metabolism as we age, which affects men, too.

Declining oestrogen levels can affect how fat is distributed, explaining why any weight gain is often round the waist. You may have to work harder but weight loss can still be achieved in the usual ways: a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Studies show as many women who don't take HRT gain weight as those who do. Some women get increased water retention/bloating but changing the dose or type can help with this.

Smoking leads to earlier menopause
Women who smoke are more likely to begin the menopause before 45, putting them at increased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.

The average age for menopause in the UK is 51. The risk of early menopause is almost double for heavy smokers. Evidence shows you may not be affected if you quit before middle age but the earlier you stop the better.

Your sex life is over
This is only true if you want it to be - and research shows that most of us don't. A study this year suggested that more than 80% of menopausal women still want an active sex life.

Some even report increased sexual satisfaction after the menopause, which may be due to the higher testosterone-to-oestrogen ratio. Many women feel liberated from the fear of getting pregnant and relax more.

Dwindling oestrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness and discomfort during intercourse but there are safe and effective treatments for this, including water-based lubrication.

You'll start the menopause at the same age as your mom
Your mom's history can be a good indicator of what's in store and many women whose mothers have an early menopause seem to follow suit. Research from the Netherlands proves there is a genetic link and in future women could be tested for the risk of an early menopause, helping them to decide when to start a family.

The age you started periods could be significant - if you started young, you may finish later.

HRT is dangerous
Experts are divided on HRT health risks but scare stories have led thousands to stop treatment. It has been linked to a slightly increased risk of certain conditions such as stroke, ovarian cancer and breast cancer but, looking at the studies involved, the risks are very small in real terms.

Most experts agree that, if you have menopausal symptoms affecting your quality of life then the benefits of taking HRT (for five years or less) greatly outweigh risks, especially for under 60s.

I favor HRT delivered through your skin by patches and gels, as they need a smaller dose than tablets. By rubbing in gel, you can gauge the lowest dose needed to control your symptoms.

Don't listen to scare stories, evaluate your individual risk with your GP and discuss the options. There's no other treatment close to HRT for effectiveness and I personally decided to live with the perceived risks in exchange for getting my old vigour and active brain back.

It's all downhill now
This is absolute nonsense! I believe you can make what you want from your life during and after the menopause. It can be a time where you concentrate on yourself - freed from the demands of a young family - or establish new and exciting goals. Most women expect to carry on into their 80s so that's a good 30 years after the average menopause.

As long as you look after yourself, keep active mentally and physically, and have a healthy attitude to aging, it can be a wonderful time for a woman.
By Doctor Miram Stoppard
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