The Change: Five Myths About What Happens During Menopause

After decades of cramps and cravings, spending the rest of your life without a monthly period might be a welcome change. But getting to that phase means going through menopause. Menopause, or as some women say, “The Change,” can be confusing.

Debunking the myths

Here we debunk five myths about what happens during menopause.

Myth: Menopause means terrible hot flashes, memory loss and weight gain

Not necessarily. “Women are often scared because they have heard so much about symptoms like hot flashes and see other people having them,” says Ann Steiner, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Penn Medicine. “But the symptoms aren’t always as bad as expected.”

Hot flashes might actually be worse during perimenopause—the time preceding menopause, Dr. Steiner notes. “So, you might have already gotten through the worst of it once you’re in menopause,” she says.

Symptoms like memory loss and weight gain can occur, but they are not always due to menopause. They might simply be due to aging, so it’s not always easy to know if changes in health are because of menopause or age.

Myth: Menopause is an “illness”

While some people treat menopause like an illness, it really is just a phase of life. Dr. Steiner notes that the average age of menopause is 51 to 52, and the average lifespan for women is 80 to 81. “Women can spend at least a third of their lives in the postmenopausal phase,” she says.

Myth: If You are at the age of menopause and miss a few periods, you’re in menopause

Menopause is defined as the time of your last period, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). However, that means you have to have gone through an entire year without a period.

When your periods have stopped, but you haven’t made it through the year, you’re actually in perimenopause, the transition phase right before menopause, the NIA says.

Myth: You don’t need to use birth control when going through menopause

If you have missed a few periods, but you’ve had at least one in the past 12 months, you can’t really know if you’re into menopause yet. Dr. Steiner reminds patients that even though fertility decreases as a woman ages, it is still possible to get pregnant right before menopause.

Since pregnancies later in life can carry risks, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, many women actively try to prevent it. Some might elect to use birth control pills, which have some side benefits.

Myth: Menopause means it’s too late to get healthy

“Just like any important phase of your life, it’s very important to stay healthy,” Dr. Steiner says. “Take a good look at yourself and your health. If you’ve been thinking about losing weight, quitting smoking—now’s a good time.”

Dr. Steiner also recommends focusing on:

  • Getting plenty of Vitamin D and calcium, but avoid supplements
  • Reducing alcohol use
  • Taking care of your mental and emotional health

Women often have many concerns about menopause. Don’t hesitate to bring any questions or problems to your physician. She can help you devise a healthcare plan that gets you through this time of life and puts you on the path to wellness.

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