Written by: Betty Murray, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
The complex journey of menopause, a significant phase in women's health, with a web of symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, weight gain, is misunderstood and dismissed by conventional medicine. Women like Linda, find themselves juggling the impact menopause has on health, the role of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and the pressing issue of medical gaslighting. This discussion underlines the necessity for supportive care for menopause, robust self-advocacy, and extensive medical education on menopause and HRT. The ultimate aim is to inspire a vital shift in healthcare policies and attitudes, championing a future where every woman's menopausal journey is acknowledged, understood, and effectively supported.
Standing at the precipice of a mysterious horizon, Linda found herself grappling with a torrent of bewildering symptoms that demanded her attention. She was among countless women worldwide staring at the threshold of menopause, lost in a sea of symptoms and perplexed by the dismissive medical response. Her journey not only helped her navigate her menopause but also highlighted the need for a paradigm shift in women's health. Linda first felt the hot flashes in her early 40s, an iconic symptom experienced by about 75% of menopausal women. As a sales manager, these sudden bouts of intense warmth in her upper body often disrupted her work and sleep, impacting her quality of life. However, the real confusion set in when she experienced less obvious symptoms like anxiety, racing heart, "brain fog," and a decreasing libido as she moved into her mid-forties.. Was this all part of menopause, or was there something more she needed to be worried about? At times, she felt as if she were trying to solve a complex puzzle with pieces borrowed from other puzzles. Were her joint aches and muscle pain due to menopause, or was it the result of her rigorous exercise routine? Was the weight gain around her abdomen and hips a symptom of menopause or a consequence of her erratic eating habits due to stress?
Unmasking The Chameleon: Key Symptoms Of Menopause
Menopause often masquerades behind various symptoms, making it the chameleon of the medical world. This very diversity can bewilder women and make it challenging to associate these changes with menopause.
Hot flashes, an iconic symptom of menopause, are experienced by about 75% of women. These sudden feelings of intense warmth in the upper body can disrupt sleep and quality of life. But did you know menopause also presents through less obvious symptoms like anxiety, depression, heartbeat irregularities, painful sex, and decreased libido? Cognitive changes, including memory problems or difficulty focusing, often called "brain fog," can add to the confusion. Physical changes are also prevalent. Many women experience joint and muscle aches, dry skin, and changes in hair quality. Then there's the intricate relationship between menopause and metabolism, leading to weight gain, particularly around the abdomen, hips, and thighs.
With such an array of symptoms, many of which overlap with other health conditions or everyday stressors, it's no surprise that women often ask, "Is this menopause?"
Confusion: The Uninvited Guest
Identifying menopause is like trying to solve a complex puzzle with pieces borrowed from other puzzles. The symptoms often start subtly, gradually intensifying over time. These changes can easily be mistaken for normal signs of aging or attributed to stress or other health conditions.
Moreover, every woman's journey through menopause is unique. Some may experience severe symptoms that significantly impact their lives, while others may have mild or none. This variability can make it harder for women to recognize what they're experiencing as menopause, often leading to delays in seeking appropriate care. With the sea of symptoms often mirroring other health conditions, it's no surprise that women frequently ask, "Is this menopause?"
Medical Misinterpretation: The Women's Health Initiative Study
Linda was dismayed by the dismissive attitude of some healthcare providers she encountered made her journey even more challenging. The undercurrent of gaslighting, where her symptoms were downplayed or attributed to emotional causes, amplified her feelings of frustration. Linda realized that this systemic issue not only hampered her diagnosis and treatment but also led to new feelings of distrust in the healthcare system.
Linda was initially scared by the supposed health risks tied to HRT, she shied away from considering it as a viable option. It wasn't until a doctor reviewed the 18-year follow-up to the WHI study, contradicting its initial findings, that Linda felt she was getting more clarity. However, it also underscored the gaps in understanding and communicating complex medical research. One monumental point of contention in menopause care has been hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study, launched in 1991, sought to investigate disease prevention in postmenopausal women, with a significant focus on HRT. The premature termination of the HRT arm of the study in 2002 due to apparent health risks sent shockwaves worldwide, leading to a steep decline in HRT use. Yet, an 18-year follow-up of the WHI study concluded that HRT does not increase cancer risk, contradicting the initial scare. This flip in narrative unveiled a critical gap in understanding and communicating complex medical research. The initial misinterpretation of the WHI study has left lasting scars on menopause care, leading to undue fear and avoidance of potentially beneficial treatment options (source).
Gaslighting In Women's Health Care: A Pervasive Problem
The term "gaslighting," originating from the 1944 film "Gaslight," has found its distressing place in the healthcare dialogue. It refers to manipulating someone into questioning their feelings, instincts, or sanity and is a significant concern in women's health care (source). Women across various demographics, including women entering into the menopause transition, underserved populations and the LGBTQ+ community, report experiences where their symptoms were downplayed, dismissed, or attributed to emotional or psychological causes rather than a biological basis. This insidious form of gaslighting in medicine has damaging effects. It not only hampers accurate diagnosis and treatment but also erodes trust in health care, leading to delays in seeking medical help (source).
The Medical Community: Room For Growth
Despite the prevalence and significance of menopause, the medical community's response often leaves much to be desired. Many women feel dismissed or misunderstood when discussing their symptoms with healthcare providers. Menopause, a natural biological process, seems shrouded in misunderstanding, preliminary research, and often insufficient training among health professionals (source).
Furthermore, the focus of conventional medicine often leans heavily toward treating individual symptoms rather than viewing menopause as a comprehensive systemic change requiring an integrated approach. This method can leave women feeling unheard and unsatisfied, leading to a lack of trust in the healthcare system.
A Cry For Change: Towards A Better Approach To Women's Health
There is a palpable need for a seismic shift in women's health care, particularly regarding menopause. The focus should be on individualized, patient-centered care that respects and understands the varied experiences of women. It's crucial to dismantle the existing gaslighting framework and promote a culture of empathy, active listening, and shared decision-making. Medical education needs to incorporate comprehensive training on menopause, its multidimensional impact on women's lives, and the importance of an integrated management approach. The lessons learned from the WHI saga underline the importance of critical interpretation and communication of medical research. As we step forward, women should feel empowered to vocalize their symptoms, seek support, and demand better care. Recognizing the broad spectrum of menopause symptoms and advocating for health needs is the key to a smoother menopausal journey. In this era, when information is at our fingertips, let's use it to drive the change we need. Let's reshape the landscape of women's health care, particularly menopause management, to reflect the diversity and complexity of women's health experiences. Women deserve a healthcare system that validates their experiences, listens to their concerns, and offers a comprehensive, individualized approach. Medical practitioners, in turn, should be equipped with a profound understanding of women's health, including menopause. This understanding necessitates updated education and training programs that reflect the latest research and advancements.
But the onus does not lie solely with the medical community. Women themselves, armed with knowledge and awareness, must champion this change. Self-advocacy in health care can be a formidable tool in demanding better care. Open and honest communication about symptoms, experiences, expectations and results can pave the way for a more effective dialogue with healthcare providers. Moreover, societies should actively dismantle the stigma and misconceptions surrounding aging and menopause. Normalizing conversations about menopause can contribute to a culture that celebrates this natural transition instead of treating it as a taboo. It’s about time menopause moved from the shadows to the spotlight of public discourse.
Lastly, policy-makers and healthcare leaders must prioritize women's health and establish structures that support comprehensive care. This could include funding research in women's health, implementing policies that ensure equal access to care, and fostering a healthcare environment that champions empathy and respect.
The Path Forward
It's high time to change the narrative around menopause and women's health. We need a shift towards patient-centered care, prioritizing empathy, understanding, and respect. Medical practitioners should seek comprehensive education about menopause, its impact on women's overall health, and the integrated approaches to managing it effectively. Women should feel empowered to discuss their symptoms openly, seek support, and request comprehensive care. When they do not find that in their current providers, it is time to seek a more supportive doctor-patient relationship. A proactive approach, focusing on early recognition of symptoms, can enhance the quality of life during menopause and beyond.
So, to every woman echoing Linda's initial question – "Is this menopause?" – remember that you are not alone. Your experiences are valid, and your voice matters. We can all contribute to reshaping the narrative around women's health and ensure that every woman feels heard, understood, and cared for in her journey through menopause and beyond. Together, we can traverse this labyrinth and reshape women's healthcare narrative. Let’s march towards a future where every woman feels heard, understood, and cared for on her journey through menopause and beyond. If you’d like some additional, human support to assist you in understanding your hormones check out my “What is My Hormone Type Quiz” and get your own personalized report to see if your hormones are contributing to your symptoms. You cand also, check out my weekly podcast at Menopause Mastery Podcast (apple, spotify, and amazon music) on your favorite podcast app.
Betty Murray, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Betty Murray, founder, and CEO of the trailblazing Living Well Dallas Functional Medicine Center, has revolutionized medicine in Dallas. Her personal crusade against colitis sparked an exploratory odyssey spanning 25 years, navigating the intricate labyrinth of nutrition, biochemistry, and functional medicine with an emphasis on women's hormones and their impact on health. On the brink of earning her Ph.D., her pioneering research delves into the relationship between hormone metabolism, the microbiome, and IBS in women. An acclaimed authority in women's health, Betty's voice resonates via her influential Menopause Mastery Podcast as part of a global initiative empowering women in their second season of life.