(From the web, too many to credit)
I'm at that special age when I have to rely on anecdotal stories from other women to figure out what the heck's going on with my body. Since those stories vary so much, I broke down and got on the Internet.
What came up from my search about (ahem, TMI alert) breasttenderness post-menopause, was this article from the Cleveland Clinic's comprehensive overview of postmenopausal symptoms.
From this article on menopause, I bolded (and added a [?]) to particular areas of nonsense, so that your inner Inane-O-Meters don't break.
"People(?) in postmenopause can feel symptoms such as:
Hot flashes and night sweats.
Vaginal dryness and sexual discomfort.
Changes in sex drive.
Women—sorry, PEOPLE have DEPRESSION when they're postmenopausal. They don't FEEL depressed, anxious, and/or moody, they have DEPRESSION because Depression is an illness, a disease. It stands alone as a symptom of menopause, not as a result of the many changes our bodies, and lives, go through.
I'll get to the other bolded symptoms, above. From the same article:
"DIAGNOSIS AND TESTS
"How do you know you're in postmenopause?
"Your healthcare provider will be able to tell you if you're in postmenopause based on your symptoms and how long it's been since your last menstrual period. In some cases, your healthcare provider will take a blood sample and check your hormone levels to confirm you've gone through menopause. Remember, you're not considered to be through menopause until it's been over one year since you’ve had a period."
So, if it's been a year since your last period, and if you're going through obvious hormonal changes, the symptoms aren't enough. The lack for the need of Tampax in the home isn't enough to "tell" us we're there, especially at age 50-something. We need a medical professional to confirm our own experiences.
And while it's probably a good idea to get hormone levels checked if symptoms are unruly and interfering with sleep and life, I'm still baffled as to why they treat menopause as a medical condition.
"MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT(?)
"What medications are used to treat postmenopausal symptoms?
"Some medications your healthcare provider may consider helping with postmenopausal symptoms are:
Antidepressants for mood swings or depression.
Vaginal creams for pain related to sexual intercourse and vaginal dryness.
Gabapentin (Neurontin®) to relieve hot flashes.
"Oftentimes your provider will recommend lifestyle changes to help manage your symptoms."
Please read some of these warnings and pay special attention to the SSRI I linked to—Lexapro (a favorite among doctors for some reason, and prescribed specifically to women for some reason), and another favored antidepressant class that's prescribed way too much by overzealous OBGYNs—SNRIs such as Effexor—as well as the boxed warnings of Gabapentin.
As women, it's our duty to be informed about this stage of life, since the majority of medical professionals lack basic knowledge about it.
Please. If your mom is approaching the age of The Change, or if you or someone you know is, please take a moment to read over the BLACK BOX WARNINGS from these medications. SSRIs, SNRIs, neuroleptics, anti-anxieties, too.
Start this conversation. I've done it and lost friends to their own certainty, only to hear how their lives have fallen apart—but the hot flashes are gone. I've spoken to other women who battle health problems and never bother to consider the long-term use of these drugs on their bodies for decades.
One read-through and it becomes crystal-clear how much these medications can and will muck up the already trying and difficult process of menopause. Trust me, it's mucky enough.
And if we consider the many side effects of these classes of medications, you'll see they not only mirror, they cause some of the worst symptoms of menopause, while tacking on some bonus conditions to stress our bodies and minds even more.
But in America, the medical profession still treats women's natural body-processes as pathological.
"Are there any health risks associated with postmenopause?
"People in postmenopause are at an increased risk for several conditions:"
Prevention? Cleveland Clinic, please feel free to change the template because no matter how many face-lifts someone gets, no matter how many filler-injections or chem-peels or dye jobs, you don't "prevent" menopause. You go through it.
In this same article, which I've truncated for this blog's purpose (i.e.: I omitted obvious conditions of older age, such as osteoporosis), the following "risks" are listed. Risks associated with menopause. Keep in mind that older women are as much at-risk as older men for the following.
"Estrogen helps protect against cardiovascular diseases like heart attack, heart disease and stroke. It is also common for people in post menopause to become more sedentary, which contributes to high cholesterol and high blood pressure. These factors combined can increase a woman’s risk for cardiovascular diseases after menopause. A healthy diet, not smoking and getting regular exercise are your best options to prevent heart disease. Treating elevated blood pressure and diabetes as well as maintaining cholesterol levels are also ways to lower your risk."
Heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are reflections of a lifestyle, not menopause. But here, we're told to "treat" these diseases as if it's a given we'll have them.
Unfortunately, if we take or have taken these medications throughout our lives, it's a solid bet we do have them, or are at an even greater risk of developing them.
"MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
"Many people in postmenopause experience moodiness, anxiety and depression. This could be caused by stress, sexual tension or other life challenges that occur during this time. Some people feel sad that their reproductive years are over. Mood symptoms can also be caused by decreased hormone levels. It might help to talk with a therapist or counselor about what you are feeling."
Again, we're in America. Should you talk to your doctor about all the above? Sure. Will they tell you to see a therapist? Maybe. Will they write you a prescription for anxiety, depression, or moodiness? You bet they will. In a heartbeat. So it's up to you to be informed about the risks to your body, your life, your future health.
(Photo Courtesy of Fotolia)
"OUTLOOK / PROGNOSIS[?]
Do people in postmenopause lose interest in sex?
"No, not all people lose interest in sex after menopause. Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex can make sex less pleasurable. Using a vaginal lubricant can help with dryness. Some people are less interested in sex because of other symptoms like depression or feeling tired. If your feelings about sex have changed, ask your healthcare provider for help."
Except that sexual dysfunction is a side effect of all three medications, above, as well as anti-anxiety drugs. So is fatigue.
If you're a woman entering menopause without psychoactive medications, the "prognosis" is that you'll emerge as a postmenopausalwoman. That's it.
The prognosis if you begin a medication during this time? Let's let the BLACK BOX WARNINGS inform us.
Weight gain, mood swings, suicidal thoughts and actions, worsening depression, anxiety,* fatigue, insomnia, vaginal dryness, loss of or changes in sex drive, Metabolic Syndrome,(which includes high blood pressure, insulin resistance, diabetes, high cholesterol) and the List. Goes. On.
Those side effects, in and of themselves, would make anyone feel depressed.
Add medications like these to an already-chaotic endocrine system that's going through massive changes, and what you've got is a lot of health risks caused, not relieved, by medications.
It's important to ask ourselves as women if we're ready to take these kinds of risks in midlife. Ask ourselves why our great-grandmothers and grandmothers didn't need medical intervention. Ask ourselves why, even today, we don't respect the incredible gift our bodies are to us and treat them accordingly, with deference and respect. Our bodies know what they're doing, why can't we trust that?
Menopause is not a medical condition, it's a part of life. Pregnancy isn't a medical condition. Menstruation isn't a medical condition. Why haven't we moved past the "women-as-disease" model in American medicine?
I wish my grandmother or mother were still alive. Menopause didn't kill them, old age did. But I'd sure like to know what they thought of this medically reviewed article.
I'm pretty sure I know what my grandmother would have said.
*akathisia, a side effect of most psychotropic medications, presenting as restlessness, severe agitation, agitated depression, feelings of foreboding, an inability to hold still… and feelings of severe anxiety.