6 Surprising Details About Menopause

Patient Expert

Misconceptions about menopause abound, but many of them were laid to rest during a radio interview with Dr. Margery L.S. Gass, the executive director of the North American Menopause Society. I thought I'd share six really interesting tidbits that you may not know. Here goes:

  • Menopause isn't a disease and, in fact, is actually a blessing for some women. Dr. Gass noted that menopause is a natural and normal phase of a woman's life, and shouldn't be considered a disease. She explained that for many women, going through menopause provides huge relief from issues such as heavy periods, cramps, birth control, and menstrual migraines that accompany the menstrual cycle. However, other women find menopause to be an unpleasant and difficult transition. The good news overall is that women in general aren't any unhealthier after going through menopause than they were prior to menopause.
  • Different groups of women have different experiences of menopause. Dr. Gass pointed out that hot flashes and vaginal dryness are more prominent in American women whereas women who live in Asian countries describe having more joint aches and pains, such as backaches. Dr. Goss suggested that because Asian women eat more soy foods with isoflavones (which are a form of estrogen) throughout their life, their diet may serve as a buffer to menopause (as compared to American women, who don't consume as much soy).
  • Going off hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be like a mini-menopause. In responding to a listener's question about HRT, Dr. Gass said that hot flashes will go away while a woman is taking hormones. When a woman stops HRT, however, she can have another mini-menopause that includes hot flashes. That's because a woman's body doesn't care whether the hormones are coming from the body or from the HRT. Dr. Gass also noted that hot flashes tend to run a course and most often will get milder and less frequent the further a woman progresses through this physical transition.
  • Bone loss during menopause brings women to the same level as men. Dr. Goss explained that during puberty, girls develop more bone in their body for their size than boys. It's that extra bone that women lose rapidly during menopause when their estrogen levels drop. This loss puts women and men on the same bone loss slope caused by aging.
  • Lifestyle differences may make a difference. One caller to the radio show said that she initially had a hard time with menopausal symptoms. Because she was very sensitive to medications, she chose to focus on her lifestyle choices, including starting a gluten-free diet, eliminating caffeine and decreasing the amount of processed foods and sugar she consumed. She also started doing yoga and credited its meditative techniques with helping her go back to sleep in the middle of the night. And finally, this caller also credited acupuncture with easing the symptoms. Dr. Gass applauded the caller's willingness to identify the triggers of hot flash and urged listeners to pay attention to what's in their environment when hot flashes happen. The doctor also pointed out that some studies have found acupuncture to be beneficial for some women. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Gass suggested that, while it's difficult to make changes, menopause can be a good time for women to take stock of their life and make the appropriate changes to get healthier.
  • Some women don't like to talk about menopause in public. A caller made the point that she prefers not to talk about menopause in group situations, especially when men are around. Dr. Gass sympathized, noting that individual women need to be sensitive to what other women prefer as far as the ways these conversations happen.

Primary source for this sharepost:
All Sides with Ann Fisher. (April 10, 2012). Menopause: How it affects women, families, careers and more. Columbus, OH: WOSU.