10 Things No One Tells You About Menopause
By Pause Well-Aging | June 26, 2019
We’re probably the first generation of women willing to talk about menopause frankly and even publicly. And that’s a good thing. Because all that past silence has left a lot of us unprepared for what menopause would really be like. Here, in no particular order, we’ve rounded up a mix of facts and real-life anecdotes we wish we had known about when it comes to bidding goodbye to our periods.
1. Extreme Sweating
Hot flashes may be the funny butt of all menopause jokes – until they happen to you. “Of course I had heard about hot flashes,” says Jen, 57. “But no one told me the kind of sweating that could come with it. I was in a meeting once and literally, it was like buckets of sweat just suddenly started pouring down my face. It looked like I had just dumped a glass of water on my head.” Too bad we hadn’t invented the Hot Flash Cooling Mist yet…
2. Menopause Can Happen Really Early
Megan, then 27, was trying for a baby, and thought her sudden missed periods meant she was pregnant. Several negative pregnancy tests later, and still no periods, she saw her doctor, who delivered some surprising news: She was already in postmenopause. Premature Menopause, defined as premature ovarian failure before the age of 40, happens to 1% of women, and she was one of them. But it wasn’t the end for her – you can read about what happened after her diagnosis here.
3. Menopause Can Happen Really Late
“I was still getting regular periods until I was 57 or 58,” says Elaine, 62. If you’re older than 55 and haven’t entered perimenopause, it’s considered late onset menopause. But all those extra years of having to buy tampons may have an unexpected upshot: A 2005 study of postmenopausal Dutch women found their mortality was reduced by 2% with each increasing year of age at menopause.
4. There are 3 Stages of It
“Um, I’m 49 and honestly don’t know if I’m in menopause or not?” laughs Sarah. “No one ever told me what to expect!” She’s not alone… even our founder Rochelle didn’t know there were 3 stages of menopause until her first hot flash happened, at which point she found herself utterly unprepared. So here’s our handy guide on what they are to help you figure out what phase you’re in.
5. It Can Be Exhausting
“When perimenopause hit, I literally didn’t make plans with friends for a year because I was suddenly so tired,” says Lisa, 57. But in her experience, a little self-care goes a long way. “I just gave myself a break and went with it. I took naps on the weekends and eventually saw a nutritionist who helped me adjust my diet, which helped me get my energy back.”
6. It Can Be Empowering
Rochelle, the founder of Pause Well-Aging, took up boxing at 50 and found she had a surprise reserve of stamina. “I can do full-body push-ups for longer than people half my age I train with. I really wasn’t expecting that!” See? Not all surprises are bad.
7. Your Periods Will Change - A Lot
Well, this one seems obvious, but we’re not talking just about the frequency of your periods. Your flow will likely change too, in ways some of us aren’t prepared for. “Starting in my late 30s, my periods were suddenly like tidal waves of blood,” says Julie, 41. “My mind went to worst case-scenarios, so I saw my doctor who told me this was pretty normal.” And it is. You can thank hormone fluctuations for periods that are heavier or lighter, and totally irregular; all typical signs of perimenopause.
8. Uh, You Might Pee Yourself
Up to 30% of American women ages 50–64 have problems with urinary incontinence, and decreased estrogen may cause or contribute to thinning in the lining of the urethra. There’s also muscle weakness that naturally comes with aging and also past childbirth injuries to consider if you’ve had a child. So do your Kegels, which can help. And if it’s really affecting your life, then get thee to a doctor.
9. Vaginal Dryness
The same way lower estrogen levels can affect your urethra, it can do the same to your vaginal walls, and also reduce vaginal secretion. (Fun fact: Your vagina can also become shorter and narrower.) For Suzanne, who’s in her 50s, she found even the wrong toilet paper could cause pain. Her solution, and what doctors recommend, is to use a good lube. She also decided to invent a genital warm/cold therapy pack called Private Packs. You can find more of her anecdotal tips for feeling better in her First Person essay here.
10. Use a Condom
Okay, so you’ve found the right lube to handle the vaginal dryness. If you’ve also found you still have a libido, and you’re out there having a good time with more than one sexual partner, don’t forget to practice safe sex. “When pregnancy isn’t a concern anymore, people often forget STDs are the other reason to use a condom, especially important if you have more than one partner,” says Dr. Daniel Chen, a geriatrician. So practice what you preached to your teenagers - sexually transmitted disease can happen at any age.