There comes a time in every girl's life when she learns about what will happen during puberty. Understanding the dramatic shift to womanhood is an essential part of growing up, and many techniques are used to explain the details of what's to come as a girl enters her teenage years.
Why then, if educating girls about the first stage of hormonal change is so significant, do we try to keep the inevitable second stage of adulthood so hush-hush? Menopause is a tricky subject for both women and men to understand. Why are so many women and their partners in the dark about the facts on menopause? What are some of the preliminary symptoms? What effect does knowledge have on our overall experience with menopause?
To answer these questions, we conducted a survey consisting of women who've experienced menopause, men whose partners have experienced menopause, and women who've not experienced menopause. We asked them a range of questions about menopause.
Read on to learn about this extraordinary process of the human body.
What Is Menopause and Why Don't People Know More About It?
Menopause occurs around age 51, on average, when a woman's natural production of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone decreases. This is characterized by the end of menstrual cycles, the beginning of hot flashes, and a slew of other symptoms. Knowing what's to come can better prepare women for the next few years of their lives.
Gaining as much knowledge about menopause as possible will help you later in life. Women who've not yet experienced menopause were more likely to believe this stage of life was way worse than it actually became. In this case, knowledge is power. Having at least a general idea of what a woman can expect is extremely helpful when understanding these changes firsthand.
For women who've experienced menopause in some way, the overall effect menopause had on their lives was less than those who didn't have a clue about what to expect. We found a correlation menopausal and postmenopausal women's awareness of what to expect from menopause and the effect it had on their lives.
Positive and Negative Feelings Toward Menopause
Women had a range of emotional responses to menopause, dealing with both maturity and frustration toward what happened to them.
People who didn't know what to expect scored higher in every negative parameter we included in this survey. Feelings of anger, disgust, shame, and sadness were felt more by those who went into the experience blind than those who knew how to treat and react to the symptoms. However, one parameter was felt by respondents relatively equally: fear. Many women experience anxiety attacks during menopause, due to changing levels of estrogen and progesterone. Being afraid of or anxious about what's to come is a natural and normal part of menopause, and overcoming those fears is a part of acceptance.
Women who were prepared to acclimate to their new lives with menopause were more likely to experience positive emotional responses. Feelings of femininity and maturity were common among women who were educated about the symptoms versus women who weren't. This showed a healthy and happy shift of their mental state going into menopause. Acceptance of menopause also offered feelings of healthiness and even relief.
Nearly 53 percent of women who were not informed about menopause were angry, while less than 18 percent of women who knew what to expect felt anger toward these changes. Feelings of anger can induce high levels of anxiety, putting a negative impact on our physical bodies and mental health. This means that, for our mental health's sake, we ought to value the open discussion of menopause more.
Women who had yet to reach their 40s didn't begin to think about menopause until many symptoms had already started. Younger women were less likely to think about menopause, as it hadn't affected them yet. However, eventually, the time will come when thinking about it is almost too little too late to be prepared for symptoms that can come unseen.
The Most Visible Symptom: Hot Flashes
One of the symptoms that aren't unseen, however, is the hot flash. In fact, it is the most apparent sign that a woman is reaching menopause. Hot flashes are unpredictable and can heavily impact the day-to-day life of a woman undergoing menopause-related changes.
A hot flash begins with an intense feeling rushing to the upper half of the body with sudden overheating, specifically to the face and chest. Lower levels of estrogen in the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that manages sleep, appetite, sex drive, and body temperature – can cause this reaction.
Hot flashes can seem intimidating. However, this interference might not be as dramatic from the other side.
While it seems overwhelming to think about, women who had dealt with hot flashes said they weren't as life-altering as they thought they'd be. While most women admitted some effect on their day-to-day lives from hot flashes, they reported a low interference in their lives from these episodes. Women who had experienced a hot flash also admitted they weren't as debilitating as women who hadn't experienced them predicted these episodes to be.
The most affected part of a menopausal woman's life is sleep disruption. Across the board in all categories, hot flashes had the highest interference in a woman's sleep cycle. These issues regarding sleeping specifically during menopause can lead to other issues, such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes, and more.
Someone experiencing a hot flash or night sweat for the first time can be terrified. There are many types of hot flashes, but they all have the same general steps: The body becomes weak and overheated, with feelings of dizziness, sweating, nausea, and headaches soon to follow. As we've seen regarding sleep, many women can experience hot flashes in the middle of the night.
Mood can also be heavily affected by hot flashes. Among women who have experienced menopause, about 23 percent have dealt with changes in their mood or dramatic shifts in their emotions.
The Symptoms of Menopause, Ranked by Intensity
The anticipation of symptoms is extremely important. Knowing what's to come will better equip women and their partners for the future. However, it's important not to allow that knowledge to consume you destructively. Often, what you expect is not nearly as bad as the results turn out to be.
Perception is not always reality. In most cases, women expected menopause to have a larger negative effect on their lives.
One thing the genders disagreed on was how they perceived the emotional response of menopause to affect women. Men rated mood changes and depression as extremely intense and noticeable, while women rated depression 26 percent less intense than they predicted it would be before menopause.
Loss of sex drive and low libido are common reactions to menopause. A decrease in normal levels of testosterone in women may cause a negative change in a woman's reaction to sexual activity. Dramatic decreases in sex drive can make a woman feel less feminine. Despite all this, the men polled did not see it that way at all.
Infertility Results in Mixed Reactions
One topic regarding menopause that respondents had mixed feelings was about infertility. While there are still risks related to becoming pregnant over age 35, it's possible to carry a healthy fetus to term. For most women, however, the possibility of having a baby disappears during menopause. Accepting this becomes a fact of life for many.
Almost half of all women who had familiarity with menopause accepted the reality that the time to be a mother was over. Other responses were varied, with a high number of respondents feeling relief and sadness.
Fear is a completely natural part of this experience. Human beings are designed to fear what they cannot control. A staggering two-thirds of women are afraid when even the thought of menopause crosses their minds, showing how few women are prepared for what's to come. Lately, many have been speaking out publicly about their experiences to encourage more women to fear it less and embrace the changes.
So, What Do We Actually Know About Menopause?
Our survey asked both genders a variety of questions about menopause, and the results spoke to how uninformed we truly are.
On average, neither men nor women were able to pass a quiz related to basic menopause facts, with men scoring around 52 percent and women scoring around 58 percent.
When asked how long perimenopausal symptoms last on average, only 10.5 percent of women and about 20 percent of men answered correctly. The reason behind this could be due to the broad nature of the question. Symptoms can last for shorter or longer than the average of four years, depending on when women start menopause and their body's response to the symptoms. Interestingly enough, this was the one question men were able to answer correctly more often than women.
As you may have predicted, women answered more questions correctly than men; however, two questions still evaded female respondents: the length of perimenopause (correct answer: four years on average) and a true-or-false question related to estrogen levels and cardiovascular disease (the majority of women incorrectly said higher estrogen levels meant a higher risk for cardiovascular disease).
Menopause and Me
The time to start thinking about menopause is as early as possible. Beginning to research the changes your body will have during menopause is as important as educating young girls about how their bodies change during puberty. Unfortunately, women only really start thinking about menopause until right before the onset of symptoms.
The symptoms of menopause cover a wide range, with changes affecting both the mind and body. Being prepared for this life-altering shift is crucial to accepting your new reality. Treatment is the first option for many. Relief of these symptoms can be found through natural menopause hormone therapy services at BodyLogicMD.
We surveyed 149 women experiencing menopause, 151 men whose partners have experienced menopause, and 702 premenopausal women using Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Statistical testing was performed on the symptoms of menopause ranked by intensity, and significance was found in each case between predictions from premenopausal women and women experiencing menopause. We found a correlation between menopausal and postmenopausal women's awareness of what to expect from menopause, and the effect menopause has had on their lives, with a P-value of 0.04. To determine the effect of hot flashes on a woman's daily life, we used the Hot Flash Related Daily Interference Scale from the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.
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