I was recently talking with a friend who is in her 20s. She asked me – What is the deal with menopause? Why am I hearing so much about it right now? When did it become such a big deal? Why does it sound so horrible? Has something changed? Is something going on that is making menopause worse?
Have you noticed this, too?
October is World Menopause Awareness Month. The purpose of this campaign – which has only been in place since 2009 – is to raise awareness of menopause and the support options available for improving health + wellbeing.
It has taken some time, but I think lots of women are ready to get in on that awareness.
Well, by 2025, 1.1 billion women will be menopausal. That’s 12% of the population! And, there is power in numbers.
It’s so fascinating that we STILL have such a stigma around the topic of menopause. We discuss ALL kinds of other subjects in our culture – but somehow this one seems like the great unknown.
As a GenXer, I remember hearing how my mom’s generation didn’t really talk about or prepare girls for the beginning of menstruation. Her generation felt very unprepared for their first period – what to expect or how to prepare.
It seems crazy that it was so ‘hush hush’ – a process that women experience every month + is such a vital part of our daily life + health. Lots of girls just had to figure it out or rely on their girlfriends to figure it out together.
So much gets lost in that silence + stigma.
Fast forward to today. We have gotten better at talking about the beginning of menstruation in our culture, but this same sort of taboo continues to exist around the end of menstruation – menopause.
And, it turns out, this is an equally important transition for women. One for which we are very unprepared – largely due to that silence + stigma around it.
I’ve had countless conversations recently with women who really don’t even know what menopause is – let alone how this stage is linked to so many health conditions – cardiovascular diseases, depleting musculoskeletal health + overall cognitive decline + dementia.
Because of the silence around this topic, we have this shared experience of being surprised by symptoms + not knowing what is normal or what is not.
It’s also crazy to learn that only “20 percent of ob-gyn residency programs provide any kind of menopause training. Mostly, the courses are elective. And nearly 80 percent of medical residents admit that they feel “barely comfortable” discussing or treating menopause.”
Luckily, this is starting to change.
Cultural shifts take time. So does medical research.
It’s fascinating to learn that some cultures don’t suffer from menopause symptoms while others do. Clearly, there are lifestyle factors that are worsening symptoms for us here in the U.S. + other parts of the world. What’s not so clear is whether they are worse than previous generations given the fact that we don’t have the data or even the stories to compare to.
Meanwhile, women are suffering silently with a host of symptoms that impact their quality of life – hot flashes, sleep disturbances, anxiety, brain fog, loss of libido + weight gain – to name just a few. And, they aren’t getting the support that they need or the education on how to minimize symptoms + have a smoother transition.
It’s time for ‘the change’ to change.
Because a few women in my life are pregnant right now, I have been reminded of how gentle + accommodating we are of women during pregnancy.
As a culture, we have created space for pregnant women to ‘take it easy’ + prioritize their health. We understand what a profound change they are experiencing + the toll it takes on their bodies. We provide dietary instructions, harmful ingredients to avoid + guidance for exercise + other lifestyle choices.
We’ve come a long way over the years.
Menopause on the other hand…we have a LONG way to go.
As women reach their 40s + enter perimenopause, they are often burning the candles at both ends. There is no special guidance or protocol for how to prepare for or manage the transition. Many women are just trying to figure it out based on Google searches + social media posts.
We deserve better.
This theme for World Menopause Awareness Month this year is cardiovascular disease because while we tend to think of breast cancer as the biggest threat to women’s health, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death + disability in women. It’s also on the rise.
According to the World Heart Federation, more than a third (35%) of deaths in women each year are due to cardiovascular disease. That’s more than 13 times greater than deaths resulting from breast cancer.
Researchers have recently discovered that a woman’s reproductive experiences throughout her life (menstruation, pregnancy, breast cancer treatments + menopause) can affect her chances of developing cardiovascular disease later in life. Hormonal changes associated with menopause can have wide-ranging impacts on cardiovascular health.
The menopause transition is a critical window for health in women – particularly for heart health. And, when it comes to cardiovascular disease, in most cases if you can identify the risk factors early on + take action, you can avoid it.
This is why it’s so important for women to have an understanding of menopause + make positive lifestyle choices during perimenopause to maintain cardiovascular health.
- Not smoking
- Doing regular physical activity
- Healthy eating
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting enough sleep
These are the things we should be supporting women with during this important transition. And, opening the door to talk about it is the first step.
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