Health experts set the clocks on menopause time, from symptoms to treatments – NBC Chicago
Women can spend more than half their lives in menopause, but women’s health experts say there are still many misconceptions about menopause care.
“A lot of women think hot flashes are menopause. It’s one thing, but, really, estrogen affects so many parts of your body — your bones, your brain, your skin,” said Pat Handler, a nurse practitioner and a board-certified menopause provider at the Center for Sexual and Menopause Medicine at Northwestern Medicine. .
Handler explained the difference between perimenopause, which can start in your early 40s, and menopause.
“Perimenopause is when a woman’s hormones start to fluctuate,” Handler said. “Menopause is when a woman has completely stopped producing estrogen.”
Symptoms are similar for both and include:
“If we can improve that for women, which we can do with hormone therapy. It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” Handler said.
Hormone therapy, however, took a big hit in 2002, when a Women’s Health Initiative study found high health risks for women taking hormone replacement therapy.
“At that time, estrogen and the particular type of progesterone that was prescribed showed a slight increased risk of breast cancer, but we don’t prescribe that anymore,” Handler said.
“We have learned a lot since then. We now know that estrogen, in fact, does not increase the baseline risk of breast cancer. We also use different formulations today. So that’s a lot of education for both the public and for women that actually hormone therapy for women who are under 60 and who are within five to 10 years of menopause, it’s is very effective and safe,” Handler said.
Northwestern Medicine established the Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause in 2017 to help women navigate menopause and different treatment options.
Although there are also non-hormonal options, estrogen replacement therapy can include a variety of options – topical gels and lotions, a vaginal ring, or even a small patch that is placed directly on the skin.
Chicago’s Maria Cantu was referred to Pat Handler in her late 40s after her menopausal symptoms came on quickly and hit hard.
“I didn’t feel. I noticed that I was able to enjoy losing some weight. And it was driving me crazy. Also, I had these sudden hot flashes. I would just start sweating,” Cantu said.
Cantu opted to start taking an estrogen patch and a progesterone pill, despite her family having reservations.
“My mom was like, this is bad for you. And I said, well, where are you coming from with that? How do you know it’s bad for you? And she’s like, well, that’s what I heard,” Cantu said.
Eradicating this misconception is part of Handler’s job.
“It’s still stuck in the brains of a lot of women and a lot of doctors, because so much attention has been focused on this study, which we know was flawed in so many ways,” Handler said.
She says women shouldn’t be ashamed to speak with their GP or gynecologist.
“If they don’t mean menopause and you’re having trouble, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Ask the questions. And if they’re not comfortable talking about it, then it’s time to come to us,” Handler said.
“People will go through it. And why suffer? Go to the experts and have it checked out,” Cantu said.