In most cases, according to a recent study, patients don’t initiate conversations around menopause until after the symptoms already have begun.
Some women begin experiencing perimenopause as early as their late 30s, with symptoms lasting anywhere from two to eight years leading up to menopause in the usual late 40s to early 50s.
Younger patients may be reluctant to bring up menopause, making it important for primary care physicians and OB/GYNs to raise the topic early and help their patients prepare for potential symptoms and treatment options, according to Christopher Van Orsdoll, D.O., an OB/GYN with Norton OB/GYN Associates.
Perimenopausal symptoms can develop gradually and vary in severity from patient to patient and from year to year. Symptoms may or may not reach a point of interfering in the patient’s day-to-day life. Lower estrogen levels can lead to more severe conditions such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
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“Symptoms include but are not limited to irregular menses, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, cognitive changes, mood swings, depression, vaginal dryness and/or sexual dysfunction,” Dr. Van Orsdoll said.
Women may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about their symptoms. Still others may not be aware that they’re experiencing menopause-related symptoms. In 91% of cases, according to a recent study, patients don’t initiate conversations around menopause until after they need assistance with managing the symptoms.
“It is important for patients not to feel embarrassed to speak to their physician about menopause, as it is a natural process,” Dr. Van Orsdoll said. “Many of us as physicians speak with our patients about it daily.”
Some women stop seeing their gynecologist once they choose to stop having children. A discussion of menopause may not come up during annual exams with primary care physicians. Some women will seek their own treatments.
“It is important for patients to consult with their physicians prior to seeking herbal remedies, as some patients may have relative contraindications to the herbal remedies and be completely unaware of it,” Dr. Van Orsdoll said.
There is a lot of misinformation, confusion and sensitivity around menopause, so it is essential for caregivers to counsel patients through this life-changing period before symptoms interfere with daily life or lead to more severe conditions.