Menopause: True or False?
Posted on 15 February 2016
If you’re a hot, sweaty, irritable, insomniac female between the ages of 40 and 70, it’s likely you’re experiencing menopause. We asked Dr Martin Puzey, a gynaecologist at Mediclinic Cape Town, to answer true or false on some of the myths about this often over-complicated stage of life.
Menopause is when you stop getting your periods.
True. Menopause is the Greek term for cessation of menses, but the reality is that most women don’t experience a sudden stop in their periods. Rather, their periods are irregular and come and go for quite some time. This stage in a woman’s life is called the climacteric or perimenopause, and can last for years – even decades. The average age of onset is 51.6 years, but it can start in your 40s and continue into your 70s.
Menopause is something you just have to live with.
False. Irregular and missed periods can lead to a series of symptoms such as hot flushes in the face and chest, sweating, insomnia, fatigue, irritability and vaginal dryness. These symptoms can be alleviated by hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The oestrogen in HRT limits these symptoms and can also make you look and feel younger. HRT helps to prevent osteoporosis and colon cancer and if started early enough (that is, at the onset of symptoms) can even prevent cardiovascular and cognitive decline.
HRT causes breast cancer.
True and False. There is a tenuous link between combined hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer. Combined HRT is prescribed for women who still have a uterus. They require a combination of oestrogen and progesterone hormones, and it’s this combination therapy that’s been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
However, it’s important to remember that there are many other risk factors for breast cancer, and taking an HRT product with a low dose of more natural hormones can reduce that risk. HRT is also linked to an increase in the risk of thrombosis – another reason to consider taking it in a low dose in a more natural form.
Women who have had a Mirena* fitted and women who have had a hysterectomy are at no increased risk of breast cancer from HRT because they can take oestrogen without any progesterone.
* A Mirena is a small, long-acting, intra-uterine device (IUD).
HRT is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
True. Women experience menopause differently, and there are various HRT plans. Hormones can be taken orally, or administered topically through the skin as a cream, patch or implant. There are also different types of hormones, such as synthetic or natural, and these can be used singly or in combination. Consult your GP or gynaecologist to discuss the best option for you.