Menopause expert Janet Carpenter, who is a researcher at the Indiana University School of Nursing, joined us on World Menopause Day to answer questions from people who attended the event, or were watching on Facebook Live. Because we don’t want anyone to miss this great information, we’re sharing questions and her answers here. CoolRevolution friend and Indianapolis Star reporter Dana Benbow was our moderator for the evening. Here are links to the Q&A sessions. Video 1 Video 2 Video 3 Video 4 Video 5
Why is menopause a day to celebrate?
It’s a transition in your life, you have no more periods, you can’t get pregnant anymore.
For women who haven’t even had hot flashes, what are the first signs of menopause you might notice?
Periods get irregular. You might have more time between periods, your periods may stop for a while, six months or seven months.
We have a woman asking if hot flashes are related to decision making?
Yes, stress. A lot of women talk about how stress triggers hot flashes. When we (Indiana University School of Nursing) bring women in to the university to do studies (on hot flashes), we give them math problems to do, and we get them to hot flash. We stress them out with math problems. It works, stress, heat, alcohol, some say those trigger hot flashes. I think it’s really individual and everyone should learn what their triggers are.
Let’s just address vaginal dryness and irritation.
Yes. Let’s. It’s very important. So your estrogen keeps your vaginal walls nice and moist and soft and supple. What happens when you lose your estrogen, they get dry, they get irritated, we call it microbiam. All the bacteria that live in your vagina that are nice and happy, get unhappy and strange bacteria come in and grow and so microbiam go a little crazy. Vaginal moisturizers are great and there are a lot of good ones over-the-counter. There is research that shows some are safer than others. There are good websites that will talk about what’s safe for microbiam. Also, women find relief from vaginal estrogens, which help restore the moisture and restore the tissue, and sex is comfortable again, which is really important.
Do women going through menopause still want to have sex?
Yes, you still want sex. What women will notice is they still want sex, their mind is ready, but their body is not ready, so the lubricants can help.
How would you tell a woman to describe it to a husband, spouse or significant other?
I would say, I want to, but my body is not ready yet, so maybe they need more time. A lot of women talk about needing more foreplay during menopause, or they need a little help, they need a little vaginal moisturizer.
What about non-medications for hot flashes?
In the hot flash exhibit (HotFlashes? Cool!), we have a treatments that work map, that is designed so women can walk along a map to get to the right treatment for them. One of the questions is: Do you want to take medication. For women who don’t want to take medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and clinical hypnosis work really great for hot flashes. Licensed psychologists can help with that. They can help change the way you react to a hot flash. Clinical hypnosis will help you retrace your hot flashes.
What happens to sleep at night?
About three-fourths of women report not being able to sleep at menopause. Part of it is hot flashes that wake women up at night, but even women who don’t have hot flashes don’t sleep well. We know that estrogen helps you have good sleep, so when you start losing estrogen, you don’t sleep as well.
Does menopause cause you to have more facial hair?
There are hair and skin changes during menopause. Women will start to lose hair on the top of their head, and it starts sprouting in odd places. The other thing that happens is skin gets a lot drier. It kind of loses its elasticity.
What if you’ve had a hysterectomy?
If women lose their ovaries as well as their uterus, they can go into menopause and have symptoms really quickly and have more severe experience. Unfortunately, it’s no shorter (than for women who go into menopause naturally).
Are there any vitamins or minerals that can help with hot flashes?
No. You’ve heard about soaking your feet in vinegar? It doesn’t work. There are no vitamins that will help. There are a lot of herbal remedies that are marketed to women, like black cohosh, and it’s been really well studied, and it does not work, research shows it’s not effective. There really are no herbal remedies that help. No vitamins, no herbs.
When will you know menopause is starting?
You’ll know by the way how you feel. You’re going to suddenly feel hot. You’re going to have trouble sleeping. Some women have mood changes, vaginal dryness. Periods can get irregular. Once your periods stop for a full year, we call that your menopause day. That’s your official day of menopause. Then you are post-menopausal. Women will have symptoms for five to seven to 10 years after their last menstrual day. So, this isn’t a quick thing, this is for years. So really through their 50s they won’t feel quite right.
If you’ve had a hysterectomy, so you don’t have a period, how will you know when you’re starting menopause?
So, what happens is, for women who still have their ovaries after having their uterus removed, their hormones will gradually change. They will have hot flashes, trouble sleeping, sometimes changes in mood.
When having periods, women can get really cranky and mean. Does that happen in menopause as well?
Some women do have mood changes in menopause. A lot of women talk to me about feeling like they don’t want people around, like they are just irritated. Some have depression that needs treatment, and if that’s happening, I’d encourage you to get treatment.
My mom said she feels so hot, she can’t do anything about it. Any tips if it’s happening in a social setting?
Remember, it may feel obvious to you, but it’s not obvious to other people. There’s been some research in England that women are so self-conscious of their hot flashes. What they realized and what psychologists taught them was that no one really knew what was going on. No one around them even knew they were having a hot flash. A lot of women said they felt embarrassed, but there’s no reason for them to be embarrassed.
What can you do?
Dress in layers – a lot of us here are wearing a cardigan, you can quickly take on and off. Avoid turtlenecks. Some people keeps cool things with them, one women keeps ice pack in her purse, and puts it on her neck. Wear CoolRevolution pajamas.
What time of day are hot flashes most likely to occur?
Anytime is the answer to that question. Women who have hot flashes during the day will continue to have hot flashes at night. They might not wake up from them, but they are probably having them all night.
What is the range of menopause?
Half of women will go through menopause before age 51, and half will be 51 and over, so that’s the marker we use. (The average age a woman hits menopause is 51.)
If you have more questions about menopause, follow us on Facebook @CoolPJs, as we're working on getting more information, so we can navigate life's changes right along with you! Or, drop of a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll work to find the answers!