Not Your Mother's Menopause

Two experts talk about menopause symptoms — and what you can do about them now.

By Cary Barbor
Hilda Hutcherson, MD (Photo: Domenica Comfort)

HUTCHERSON: But I have heard of them lasting as long as 20 years!

MOORE: Symptoms vary among women and vary by the day or moment.

HUTCHERSON: Some symptoms are intense enough to need medical treatment. Others can be controlled with home remedies, such as ice packs.

MOORE: There are women who get symptoms so intensely that they say, "I cannot live like this." For them, luckily, there are now many options — estrogenic or nonestrogenic medications, and acupuncture, soy products, and more.

MORE: How do you handle yourself in public while having a hot flash?

HUTCHERSON: Most people don’t notice unless you lose your cool. Just take it in stride — remove your jacket or find a tissue and blot your forehead. But if you huff and puff and start to panic, then people will notice. And most people aren’t going to say anything — especially men. Men are going to turn their heads. They get kind of embarrassed by it.

MOORE: Women have been embarrassed until recently.

HUTCHERSON: I tell men that the number one thing they need to know about menopause is that joking about it can be hazardous to their health. Menopause causes an increased fracture rate in men.

MORE: We’re allowed to joke about it; you’re not.

MOORE: Right. It’s one of those kinds of things.

MORE: To talk a bit more personally, Dr. Hutcherson, you’re in menopause, and Dr. Moore, you’re starting perimenopause. So how is it going?

HUTCHERSON: I feel very good. I expected to have a lot of hot flashes and night sweats and not be able to sleep and be depressed — the things my patients complain about. I get some hot flashes, but I just ignore them. I say, okay, this is only going to last a little while. I take a few deep breaths and keep going. Once in a while I’ll have a hot flash in a meeting, and I will blot my forehead and it’s done. The bottom line is, I really don’t care at this point whether somebody sees me have a hot flash or not. I don’t care what they think.

MOORE: I feel the same way.

HUTCHERSON: I’m alive, I’m healthy, and this hot flash is going to pass. Attitude helps me a lot. Sure, sometimes at night I’ll wake up and I’ll throw the covers off, and a few minutes later I’m cold and I’ll put the covers back on. But I just keep going. And I’m happy because I know that there are women who really do suffer. I’ve treated some of them.

MORE: Are you experiencing the increased energy that people talk about?

HUTCHERSON: Hell, no.

MOORE: I’m sorry, did you miss the part where she’s an ob-gyn with four children?

HUTCHERSON: There are nights when I have to stay up late because I’m writing a book and have so many jobs. And I’m exhausted. When I was in my 30s, I could stay up all night and work into the next afternoon and be fine. I don’t have that same energy. I work out with a trainer twice a week and try to get in some aerobics at least another couple of times a week so I don’t fall apart and can get through my very, very busy day. But I haven’t had a big energy boost. No.

MOORE: I am not worried about menopausal symptoms. For one thing, my mother had hardly any. But I’m also not afraid to get treated if I have bothersome ones.

MORE: What about mood swings?

HUTCHERSON: Mood changes lean towards depression for women who have them. Most women don’t get an increase in mood swings with menopause, but I’ve seen more depression than anger. Women just feel low.

MOORE: Depression is not associated with menopause except in women who have had previous depression, previous severe PMS, or some kind of major negative life event simultaneous with menopause. Also, I think some low feelings — crankiness and bitchiness — stem from sleep deprivation.

HUTCHERSON: Definitely. Another life stressor that happens at this time is relationship issues. This may be the first time a woman steps back from a long relationship and realizes that there is something wrong here. That often happens around menopause.

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