Uncovering the truth about the change.
The menopausal transition can be confusing. You might be left feeling hot, but not exactly so hot and bothered for sex. Rest assured, you’re not alone, and there are ways to find relief for your symptoms.
With the help of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Laurie Arnold Tompkins, an advanced practice registered nurse for Vanderbilt Women’s Health, we peel the lid off some of the myths about “the change.”
Myth: I won’t experience menopause symptoms until I am at least 50.
Fact: “Menopause symptoms may begin several years prior to the onset of the menstrual changes associated with menopause,” Tompkins says. That means you may have hot flashes well before your period ends. Although the average age for menopause is 52, more than half of women ages 45 to 56 have hot flashes, Tompkins adds.
Women may go through menopause earlier than expected for no reason at all, because of surgical or other medical treatments, or because of an immune system issue, according to the Office of Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The time leading up to your last period in which you might experience menopausal symptoms like hot flashes is called perimenopause. It’s important to remember that during perimenopause, you are not infertile. Additionally, as always, you are still at risk for sexually transmitted infections.
Myth: I can’t do anything about menopausal weight gain.
Fact: “There is actually no clinical evidence that menopause alone or even the use of hormones causes weight gain,” Tompkins says. “In fact, midlife weight gain is mostly related to aging and lifestyle.” However, due to a loss of muscle mass, menopause may change a woman’s body composition, resulting in a thicker waistline. Tompkins recommends eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and adopting an exercise plan that includes both cardio and weight-resistance training.
Myth: I’m doomed to a tanked sex drive when I go through menopause.
Fact: As much as one-third to a half of women do report sexual changes during menopause transition, Tompkins says, but there are options and treatments. First, take a look at your medications. Some antidepressants, painkillers and blood pressure meds can kill your libido.
Tompkins recommends scheduling intimate time with your partner. “In other words, keep doing it!” she says. “Regular sexual activity promotes desire and keeps the vagina healthy.” Stay fit and active, too, she adds, since exercise can increase arousal.
“Also, there are safe medical therapies and treatments available for orgasmic changes, painful sex and vaginal dryness,” she says. “Ask your menopause practitioner about your treatment options.”
Vanderbilt Women’s Health provides care for women at all stages of their lives at locations across Middle Tennessee. Learn more here or call 615-343-5700.