September 17, 2018 2:49 pm
Certified Nurse Midwife Cece Norton Talks Menopause
With the aging Baby Boomer population, thousands of women are crossing the bridge into menopause. This generation that brought the women’s movement and sexual revolution are now being faced with many unfamiliar changes in the process of aging. These women who knew about their bodies more than any generation are now asking many questions in regard to changes that are rarely discussed and seldom treated.
One hundred years ago the average life expectancy for women was 51, the same age most reach menopause. So in essence, what came after menopause didn’t matter much except the acceptance that life was near the end.
As life expectancy began to increase, medicine had the answer to relieve the many symptoms by giving back the hormones women were lacking. Women felt like themselves again. They maintained their youthful appearance and energy. The risk of osteoporosis decreased along with the belief that hormones would decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Then the research began to trickle in. Giving estrogen without progesterone increased uterine cancer. Evidence suggested that breast cancer risk increased with hormone replacement. Medicine began to question the benefit of replacing the hormones that women relied on for vitality.
In 2002, hormone replacement therapy came to a halt with early data released in a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative. The study included over 160,000 women ages 50 to 79 that took a combination of estrogen and synthetic progesterone. The early results showed an alarming risk of heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer. Women were counseled against the use of hormone therapy. Medical providers were educated that hormones caused more harm than good. Fear prevented women from getting relief from debilitating symptoms.
For many women this left nothing but feeling unwell and the inevitability of aging. In the past few years further analysis of the WHI study has questioned the blanketed concern over the risk of hormone therapy. Medical organizations now agree that women can be treated but with the lowest dose of hormones for symptom relief for a short period of 3 to 5 years. Slowly treatment options are coming back to the forefront and hormone therapy is once again being offered. What continues is a gap of understanding of the process and the knowledge of how to treat menopausal women.
During my career I have cared for women almost exclusively in the reproductive years. As my population of women reach their 40s and 50s I have found myself challenged on how to help them with their concerns as they enter the pre and postmenopausal years. Faced with the same unanswered questions from a personal perspective I have found the information gap to be far and wide among the general public as well as medical providers. To be sure there is temporary treatment for hot flashes but there are few treatment options for weight gain, sleep disturbances, loss of libido and multiple other afflictions that menopause brings.
The good news is there is treatment available for many problems associated with menopause. Hormonal and non-hormonal options are now more freely offered. Women of this generation are demanding to be heard, just as they did 50 years ago. They want answers about the changes in their bodies. They want to feel good again, like themselves.
In the upcoming weeks I plan to help inform you on the many facets of menopause and the changes it brings to help you navigate this forgotten chapter in women’s lives.
– Cece Norton, APRN, CNM
Next Up: Menopause Defined