Menopause means you’re no longer able to get pregnant because it’s been a year since you’ve had your last period — and you’re not using birth control or a medication that stops your period.
Menopause applies to all women at or after a certain age. Yet many women have limited knowledge of menopause, and many misconceptions persist. Some women assume that menopause is awful, sweat-filled, sexless and sleepless. But most people have mild to moderate symptoms.
Let’s bust some common myths about menopause:
Myth: Menopause is just hot flashes
Up to 80% of women experience hot flashes during menopause. But there are many other symptoms you might experience, including:
- Anxiety and depression.
- Changing emotional and physical feelings related to sex.
- Memory problems.
- Mood changes.
- Sleep problems.
- Urinary incontinence.
- Vaginal dryness.
- Weight gain.
These symptoms can start before you are officially menopausal, during perimenopause. A primary symptom of perimenopause is irregular periods that change in duration and frequency before you stop menstruating altogether. When you aren’t expecting or considering menopause, these symptoms can be confusing and surprising.
Myth: Menopause never starts before age 50
There are a few paths to menopause, including when your reproductive hormones naturally decline with age, known as natural menopause. Other people experience surgical menopause after having their ovaries removed.
In the U.S., 51 is the average age people go through menopause. But just as the age you start having your period can vary, the same is true for when it will stop.
Some people become menopausal between ages 40 and 45, which is considered early menopause. Premature menopause is when you become menopausal before you turn 40. Premature and early menopause can happen following a surgery, inexplicably, or if you smoke, have a family history of early menopause, have had cancer treatment, or have an autoimmune disease.
Myth: Nothing can be done to manage symptoms — you just have to deal with them
Menopause itself is a natural condition that doesn’t necessarily require medical treatment. However, perimenopause and menopause symptoms can give some — but not all — people trouble. But there are treatments that can provide some relief.
“Women don’t have to suffer,” says Stephanie S. Faubion, M.D., M.B.A., a women’s health expert at Mayo Clinic and medical director of The Menopause Society. “There are solutions out there and doing nothing doesn’t have to be the answer.”
A conversation with your healthcare team can help determine the best options to treat your individual experience with menopause. Medical treatment might include medications such as hormone therapy to treat hot flashes and other symptoms.
Myth: Hormone therapy is dangerous
Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) includes taking estrogen or a combination of estrogen and progesterone, which are hormones that your body essentially stops making after menopause. If you are younger than 60 or within 10 years of menopause and are healthy, taking hormone therapy might help with hot flashes and vaginal discomfort.
So where does this myth come from? In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) released study results that linked the use of combination (estrogen and progestin) hormone therapy with increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease. The study findings have been reconsidered and debated in the years since — sometimes even reported out of context. The WHI study had many flaws, including studying women who had not recently gone through menopause and were older, as well as using a form of estrogen less typically used with modern regimens.
The truth is that menopausal hormone therapy is very effective for some symptoms of menopause and a good choice for many women. Today, several hormone therapy products are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the symptoms of menopause. However, the FDA discourages some women from taking hormone therapy for menopause, including those who have or have had certain kinds of cancers, had a stroke or heart attack, or have liver disease or a history of blood clots..
If you’re interested in hormone therapy to treat your menopausal symptoms, talk with your healthcare professional about your personal benefits and risks. If your health care team doesn’t know, seek a certified menopause specialist.
Myth: You need menopause supplements to get you through it
You might hear that dietary supplements help treat menopause symptoms. Dietary supplements like vitamins, minerals, herbs and amino acids might help improve or maintain your well-being, but they can present potential health risks, like interacting with other medications you already take.
It is essential that you speak with your healthcare professional about supplements. Some commonly discussed options include:
- Vitamin D and calcium supplements, which help strengthen bones.
- Plant-based estrogens that occur naturally in foods like soybeans, chickpeas and whole grains to help with a variety of symptoms — though studies on the estrogenic components in these foods are of mixed quality and outcomes.
Myth: If I can’t take hormone therapy, there aren’t other options to manage my symptoms
If hormone therapy or supplements are not a good fit for you, fezolinetant is a Food and Drug Administration-approved medication to treat menopause symptoms.
Additionally, your overall well-being can benefit from these approaches:
- Practice relaxation techniques like paced breathing.
- Avoid smoking.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Be physically active.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Myth: Sex after menopause is nearly impossible
It is true that the lower estrogen levels that come with menopause can impact your sexual responsiveness and change your genital tissues. The good news is that there are things you can do to help your sexual health during this time, including:
- Using water-based vaginal lubricants during sex to prevent discomfort.
- Using vaginal moisturizers regularly.
- Talking to your healthcare professional about a cream, tablet or ring to deliver vaginal estrogen.
- Having more sex.
- Doing exercises to help strengthen your pelvic floor, as these muscles involved in orgasm.
It is also true that you might not notice any change to your sex life, or that you feel even more comfortable with your sexuality.
So whether you’re worried about sweat, sleep or sex, or have questions about how your life might change as menopause approaches and runs its course — there is help available that starts by talking about these topics.
The New Rules of Menopause
The ultimate guide, offering real talk about menopause, straight, honest info for managing symptoms and the keys to optimizing your health for the long run – from one of the top doctors in the field of women’s health and other experts from Mayo Clinic.Shop Now