Millions of women navigate the menopause journey each day, but societal stigma around menopause still exists. Bettering menopause education and awareness will improve health outcomes and well-being for women as they age.
Kathryn G. Schubert, MPP, CAE
President and CEO, Society for Women’s Health
Menopause is marked as the point 12 months after a woman’s last menstrual cycle. Despite the fact that more than 1.3 million American women transition into menopause each year, there is still societal stigma surrounding menopause and aging. As a result, women may not feel comfortable discussing this natural life stage with family or friends, leading to a lack of awareness about the potential pathways to, stages in, or even symptoms of menopause.
Empowering women to embrace wellness in their menopause journey hinges on women being prepared for and understanding the variety of changes from menopause. Earlier this year, the Society for Women’s Health Research published the “Menopause Preparedness Toolkit: A Woman’s Empowerment Guide” (some highlights of the toolkit included below) to share information related to reproductive aging and midlife, as well as resources such as a menopause care journal, to help women navigate this time in their life.
The menopause journey
No menopause journey looks the same. Menopause’s beginning, the time between stages, and the type and severity of symptoms vary from person to person. Women of different races and ethnicities may also have different experiences with menopause symptoms. For example, reports have shown that African American women often report the highest incidence of hot flashes, whereas Hispanic women may be more likely to report vaginal dryness.
Menopause and lifestyle
While many women transitioning to menopause are in the prime of their careers and continue to work well into their postmenopausal years, menopausal women in the workforce may experience challenges related to concentration, tiredness, depression, and reduced confidence, among other things. Women have the right to a healthy work environment and can talk to their employers about this.
Specifically, women may consider advocating for menopause-friendly workplace accommodations like flexible work hours, working from home, frequent breaks throughout the day, and access to cold water and restrooms. Each of these could help mitigate the impact of menopause symptoms, improve productivity, and promote menopause education and awareness.
While menopause can affect many aspects of a woman’s life — from her personal and professional to sexual and social life — there are lifestyle approaches to promote a healthy midlife. Tools like a healthy diet, exercise and weight management, stress management, and sleep can help women manage their menopause symptoms and may improve work-life productivity.
Treatment options for vasomotor symptoms
Vasomotor symptoms (VMS), or hot flashes and night sweats, occur in up to 80% of women, for an average of 10 years. Yet, 73% of women are not treating their menopause symptoms, including hot flashes. In addition to lifestyle approaches to manage symptoms, women may wish to explore other treatment methods like alternative therapies (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy, acupuncture), natural remedies, or hormone therapy.
In addition to VMS, women may experience genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), broad symptoms across genital, sexual, and urinary areas that include vaginal dryness, burning, and irritation. Like VMS, these may persist for many years and become bothersome if not treated.
Reversing the stigma
Removing the stigma surrounding menopause and making it a natural part of everyday conversations require increased public menopause education and awareness efforts; the promotion of pre-menstrual wellness to improve overall health outcomes as women transition into postmenopausal life; and ensuring conversations include the positives of menopause, such as a sense of freedom from the inconvenience and discomfort of monthly menstrual cycles or mood swings associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Over half of the U.S. population experiences menopause, but awareness is still limited. It’s time to flip the script and make a concerted effort to discuss menopause openly and comfortably, so that no woman has to go it alone.