Menopause is no picnic, but medical resources should be used to fight bigger problems

     (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-205679977/stock-photo-beautiful-woman-is-screaming-with-a-ventilator-in-your-hands.html'>Woman screaming into a fan</a> image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    (Woman screaming into a fan image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    Enough already with “Woe is me!” menopausal lamentations.

    Menopause is just another fact of life for women. Count me as a subscriber to the menopause-is-a-normal-and-a-natural-process, so-tough-it-out-and-get-over-it school of thought.

    No doubt, some women truly suffer during menopause. And I wish them the best in finding appropriate medical or alternative treatments that offer them relief. Still, this vexing rite of passage is nothing new. Women of a certain age have been going through “the change of life,” as my late mother described it, for ages. We’re not exactly menopause pioneers.

    My blasé attitude about menopause likely took root when I worked as a secretary at Philly’s Tourist Center during my fertile late-20s. Thanks to a dramatic co-worker, the subject came up regularly. After a heavy sigh, often accompanied by a hasty stripping of her sweater, the woman announced to everyone in the office that she was having hot flashes. This was decades before a suitable tag like TMI, denoting “too much information,” was in vogue.

    I’m 62, and menopause is behind me now. Much like the pregnancies and childbirths that preceded this cessation of fertility, I have only vague memories of the painful parts.

    As I do with most things, I tried to manage menopause with little fuss during my 50s. I learned to dress in layers to be ready to beat the heat that began in the middle of my back and spread over my shoulders and down the front of me. When this fire inside flared in the middle of the night, I got up and walked around until I cooled off. Then I changed my sweat-soaked nightgown before climbing back under the covers. Since I did my best to control the menopause monster that occasionally surfaced from within, my tongue sometimes grew sore from biting it.

    While premenopausal, I read a lot about hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, to alleviate symptoms, but never even considered it for me. Taking birth control pills, which made me cranky and bloated during a few of my younger years, cured me of any desire to ingest drugs to control hormones. This, along with intuition, suggested that HRT likely had side effects, too.

    So when news broke in 2002 that researchers put a sudden stop to a the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Women’s Health Initiative estrogen-plus-progestin study — because scientists discovered that long term use of estrogen and progestin raised the risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer — I was not surprised.

    Two years later, the media, including NPR, reported on another WHI discovery that taking estrogen alone increased risks for stroke, dementia and other health disasters. That additional news reinforced my belief and offered relief that I never touched the stuff.

    [Editor’s note: WHYY’s Maiken Scott produced a story for The Pulse that disputes the findings of the WHI study.]

    Maybe I’m just old school. My philosophy concerning medicine is “Take as needed.”

    Yes, the physical symptoms of menopause are inconvenient and annoying. Sure, there’s no denying that shifting hormones can play havoc with one’s head. Our menopausal thinking becomes fuzzy or worse at times. Or, one feels sad, depressed or just plain crazy. If diet, exercise or hormone treatments deemed safe for an individual do not ease these problems, we’ve no shortage of experts to address menopause’s mental health aspects, and possible underlying issues, and prescribe any number of anti-depressants, as needed.

    Research dollars to combat disease are tight. Women, men and children die from diseases like cancer, heart or respiratory failure, HIV/AIDS, schizophrenic suicide, and rare illnesses that pop up periodically like H1N1Swine flu or H5N1 avian flu and more recently Ebola.

    No one’s dying from menopause, as far as I know. Maybe it’s time we women stopped whining about menopause and focus on the needs of those facing truly life threatening diseases.

    Moreover, when I discussed this issue with my younger, premenopausal friend Marilisa, she nailed it as another example of what our former Mayor Ed Rendell dubbed “the wussification of America” after the NFL cancelled the Eagles/Vikings game due to snow in 2010.

    Indeed, the more we overblow menopausal blues, the more we wussify women.

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