Being a woman practitioner I take care of a lot of women. I honestly love women’s health and love helping women feel empowered with their health and wellness. One of the most common conversations I have in my practice is about Menopause. And almost always the patient will say, “Man no one tells you that it’s going to be this way.” So let’s talk about some things regarding menopause that often are overlooked or kept a secret.
1. A common symptom is irritability. More importantly, it typically is towards your spouse. The classic phrase is “I can’t stand my husband and I have no idea why.” When our body starts to lose estrogen we often will find that our irritability, anger and anxiety will increase. So don’t think you’re going crazy or that maybe you have depression. It may be that your emotions are having a whirlwind of a change as your body is physically changing as well.
2. Hot Flashes. Ladies, these are not for the faint of heart. It’s not a little sweat on your brow. It’s waking up in the middle of the night in a pool of sweat. A classic line from patients is “It feels like my body is on fire from the inside out.” Be prepared to dress in summer pajamas even in the dead of winter. And that extra fan will be your new best friend.
3. Vaginal Dryness. I make a strong effort to always ask my lady patients “does it hurt to have sex?” at their annual exams. Most women don’t realize that others experience it, and that there are treatments for it. It’s often a hush hush subject. But ladies, God made sex, and it is supposed to be enjoyable. If you struggle with vaginal dryness and are therefore struggling with sex, please talk to your primary care provider or gynecologist. There are easy remedies for this!
4. Increased UTIs. Most women do not realize that our urethra and vagina are literally next door neighbors. When we urinate it feels like the urine is coming out much higher in position than what it is in comparison to our vaginas. Unfortunately when you lose estrogen it changes the way your body can fight off urinary tract infections and therefore you are more prone to getting them. Again, if you fix the vaginal dryness you will likely help prevent your infections as well.
5. No Libido. You aren’t in your twenties anymore. Sheesh. It’s a struggle for most women in menopause to desire to have sex. So not only do most women struggle with pain with intercourse due to vaginal dryness, but often they struggle to want to even begin the process of having sex. (Is anyone else looking forward to menopause yet? Yikes!) This is likely due to not only the loss of estrogen in your body but also the loss of testosterone as well.
6. Weight gain. All too often I hear “I haven’t changed a thing but I keep gaining weight.” As we age, and specifically through menopause we often will experience metabolic changes as well. With that said, sugar is NOT your friend in menopause. This is not just apple pies ladies, this is breads, pastas, rice, and all other yummy starchy goodness out there. If you focus on non starchy veggies, and plenty of cardiovascular exercise you can prevent the dreaded weight gain that often comes with menopause.
So, if you’re going through menopause I hope this at least encourages you to know that you are not alone in your crazy life changing process! But I also hope that you can know that there are safe and effective options to help you go through menopause gracefully. Additionally, not every woman experiences every symptom listed and some women are very lucky and go through it without even a hot flash. But most women in my office experience something from menopause that usually negatively effects them.
So what do we do to treat it?
I often tell women this, “Look, if you don’t feel that your quality of life has been effected, then let the process happen and take nothing and do nothing about it. But, if you can’t sleep due to hot flashes, or you can’t have sex because of pain from vaginal dryness, then let’s talk about treatment options.” Yes, there are risks and benefits to hormone replacement therapy. But I can help walk you through that decision making process based on family history, personal medical history, etc. There are also many natural supplements you can try before hormones.
Please, if nothing else do not be afraid to at least talk with your health care provider about your symptoms and concerns. There are plenty of safe treatment options. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with your health care provider, then feel free to give our office a call. We can tell you what we can do or get you plugged in with the right team to help you feel better.
As always, I hope you stay happy and healthy.
Carolyn Clark, NP-C