Opening Up About Menopause

By Sue Sveum

As a local hairstylist, Barbie chats with clients all week. Like a therapist (or bartender), it’s simply part of her job. But when the topic veers to women’s health issues like menopause, she takes her role especially seriously. “It’s a tough topic for women to talk about,” she explains. “So, I’m happy to listen — even to those ‘embarrassing’ women’s issues.”

According to Mary Ross Carr, an advanced practice nurse practitioner at SSM Health, the average age of menopause is 50 — and many people experience perimenopause up to 10 years before that. True menopause is defined by the lack of menstruation for one year.

During perimenopause you may experience mood swings, sleep issues, weight gain, fatigue, anxiety and depression, and even a decrease in libido. You may also have hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness — which is also associated with menopause. You may have heavy or irregular bleeding, or your period may simply become lighter and less frequent.

“The transition can be fairly smooth — or a little bumpy,” says Ross Carr. “In general, the symptoms indicate what, if any, treatment is recommended.”

So, when Barbie started experiencing symptoms of menopause, she turned to Ross Carr for help.

“I went in for a vaginal issue and ended up talking about treatments for menopause,” Barbie says. After addressing her initial concern, Ross Carr asked if there was anything else she wanted to talk about. “I was interested in hormone therapy but if she hadn’t asked, I’m not sure I would’ve brought it up,” Barbie confides. “But once I did, I was glad. Mary took me seriously — and now I’ve started low-dose hormone therapy.”

Ross Carr says although some women worry about using hormones due to a study linking hormone therapy to breast cancer, the research is ongoing, and the risks appear to be small. And for women who don’t need, or choose not to take hormone replacement, there are many other alternatives.“Not all women experience ‘the change’ in the same way,” stresses Ross Carr. “Many women approach menopause with dread. Some foresee an end to their sex life, miserable hot flashes, saggy breasts and other horrors. I’m here to tell you that this need not be your future!”

Barbie agrees. “If you’re having any issues about menopause please talk to your provider,” she urges. “People are living longer these days — so you should feel good!”

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