Saturday, June 9, 2007

My Menopause Manifest

Three months ago I decided to stop my Hormone Replacement Therapy.  I had been taking the tablets for about three years and I was getting nervous about the high risk of cancer.
I can honestly say that I have never felt more miserable in my entire life.  Since there are 78.2 million American Baby Boomers out there, and slightly over 50% of them are women ... lets talk menopause. 
Misery loves company ya' know.
Since I am an RN, I feel it is my duty to present the scientific facts (before we get to the reality of it all which we'll discuss in future segments). 
According to the Mayo Clinic menopause is a transition that can start in your 30s or 40s and last into your 50s or even 60s. You may begin to experience signs and symptoms of menopause well before your periods stop permanently. Once you haven't had a period for 12 consecutive months, you've reached menopause.  Menopause is a natural biological process, not a medical illness. Although it's associated with hormonal, physical and psychosocial changes in your life, menopause isn't the end of your youth or of your sexuality. Several generations ago, few women lived beyond menopause. Today, you may spend as much as half of your life after menopause.  Hormone therapy (HT) has been widely used in recent decades to relieve the signs and symptoms of menopause and — doctors thought — to prevent diseases associated with aging. However, new long-term evidence has demonstrated that HT may actually increase your risk of serious health conditions, such as heart disease, breast cancer and stroke.
Okay ... but lets get to the heart of the matter.  How much am I going to suffer?   The Mayo Clinic says: Several chronic medical conditions tend to appear after menopause. By becoming aware of the following conditions, you can take steps to help reduce your risk:
  • Cardiovascular disease. At the same time your estrogen levels decline, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women as well as in men. Yet you can do a great deal to reduce your risk of heart disease. These risk-reduction steps include stopping smoking, reducing high blood pressure, getting regular aerobic exercise and eating a diet low in saturated fats and plentiful in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • Osteoporosis. During the first few years after menopause, you may lose bone density at a rapid rate, increasing your risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle and weak, leading to an increased risk of fractures. Postmenopausal women are especially susceptible to fractures of the hip, wrist and spine. That's why it's especially important during this time to get adequate calcium — 1,500 milligrams daily — and vitamin D — 400 to 800 international units daily. It's also important to exercise regularly. Strength training and weight-bearing activities such as walking and jogging are especially beneficial in keeping your bones strong.
  • Urinary incontinence. As the tissues of your vagina and urethra lose their elasticity, you may experience a frequent, sudden, strong urge to urinate (urge incontinence) or incontinence with coughing, laughing or lifting (stress incontinence).
  • Weight gain. Many women gain weight during the menopausal transition. You may need to eat less — perhaps as many as 200 to 400 fewer calories a day — and exercise more, just to maintain your current weight.  Oh goody.
  • Emotional and cognitive changes. You may experience irritability, fatigue, decreased memory and diminished concentration as you approach menopause. These symptoms have sometimes been attributed to hormonal fluctuations. Yet other factors are more likely to contribute to these changes, including sleep deprivation and stressful life events — such as the illness or death of a parent, grown children leaving home or returning home, and retirement.  Can it get any worse? 
  • Changes in appearance. Many women gain a modest amount of weight — about 5 pounds on average — during the menopausal transition. The fat that once was concentrated in your hips and thighs may settle above your waist and in your abdomen. You may notice a loss of fullness in your breasts, thinning hair and wrinkles in your skin. If you previously experienced adult acne, it may become worse. Although your estrogen level drops, your body continues to produce small amounts of the male hormone testosterone. As a result, you may develop coarse hair on your chin, upper lip, chest and abdomen.  Sorry I asked.
According to MedicineNet  Hot flashes are common among women undergoing menopause. A hot flash is a feeling of warmth that spreads over the body and is often most pronounced in the head and chest A hot flash is sometimes associated with flushing and is sometimes followed by perspiration. Hot flashes usually last from 30 seconds to several minutes. Although the exact cause of hot flashes is not fully understood, hot flashes are likely due to a combination of hormonal and biochemical fluctuations brought on by declining estrogen levels.

In my experience, a hot flash occurs once an hour when some evil demon switches on a furnace in the pit of my belly.  He (I say "he" as I KNOW that NO "woman" would ever do this to another) turns the thermostat WAY up, and instantly the flames roar, devouring every inch of my body.  They rise hotter and higher, until I feel that I am about to explode into a ball of fire.  The monster keeps the heat going for about five minutes and then slowly turns down the thermostat.  This is followed by one to two minutes of a soft "glow" like hot coals on the bottom of your barbecue.  My body is left cold and wet like the steel frame of a building hosed down by firefighters after a blaze brought under control.  But ... that's just me.  Sorry... I digress ... where we?  Oh yeah...

There is currently no method to predict when hot flashes will begin and how long they will last. Hot flashes occur in up to 40% of regularly menstruating women in their forties, so they may begin before the menstrual irregularities characteristic of menopause even begin. About 80% of women will be finished having hot flashes after five years. Sometimes (in about 10% of women), hot flashes can last as long as 10 years. GOOD GRIEF!  There is no way to predict when hot flashes will cease, though they tend to decrease in frequency over time. On average, hot flashes last about five years.

Sometimes hot flashes are accompanied by night sweats (episodes of drenching sweats at nighttime). This may lead to awakening and difficulty falling asleep again, resulting in unrefreshing sleep and daytime tiredness. 

Research shows that cigarette smoking, caffeine (including chocolate) and alcohol increase the intensity and frequency of hot flashes.  But, in my own defense, if I didn't have a cup of coffee in the morning, smoke all day, eat hundreds of Tootsie Rolls at my desk and drink heavily on occasion, I'd be a FREAKIN' LUNATIC!  Albeit a less sweaty one.

In my quest for knowledge I also discovered that withdrawal from hormones is strikingly similar to heroin and crack cocaine withdrawal!  Heroin Addiction  says heroin addicts experience  being cold and then getting hot flushes - constant temperature changes, sweating / chills, feeling sad, crying at little things (even TV soaps, adverts), insomnia, not sleeping for days on end, irritability, feelings of weakness and tiredness, although not being able to sleep and elevations in blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rate, and Crack withdrawal symptoms include but are not limited to: agitation, depression, extreme fatigue, anxiety, angry outbursts, lack of motivation, irritability and disturbed sleep.

And the longest drug withdrawal is only THIRTY-TWO WEEKS!  Compare that to FIVE to TEN YEARS! 

I just wanted you to realize what we're up against!  Not to mention having a few facts to throw at anyone who thinks menopause is child's play.

Knowledge is power, so they say.

Of course "they" are probably men, or women in their thirties who would run to the nearest emergency room if they ever had a hot flash at this point in their lives.

So what does all this mean?  I'm getting to that ... stay tuned.


readmereadyou said...

Yes, I'm back visiting. Hope you don't mind. Good to see you back.......I had to answer this one.
I had a surgical total.........everything gone.......hysterectomy at 36 and took hormones until I was 48. I never had hot flashes (teeny ones not even worth mentioning). I don't exercise. Never had urinary incontinence. I smoke and I only recently started to put on weight because I'm over 60,  retired and sit on my but a lot eating chocolate and cake and all kinds of junk food (can't blame that on anything or anyone but me). I have no facial hair......Don't listen to all of that crap.  I had miserable menstrual cycles and a very easy menopause. So if you get a few flashes, the world won't end. Stress brings them on. Take a xanax and you will "chill" out. LOL!

PS......All of friends are fine too. One has the night sweats but she just changes the pillow case or strips off her nightgown and sleeps au naturale! LOL!

sieblonde said...

Let's not forget about the mood swings.....   oy!   ~Sie

stupidsheetguy said...

Well, it looks like you made a well-informed decision, and I hope it's one that works out very well for you. I obviously will not have the pleasure of this experience, but I tend to try and be sympathetic nonetheless. I think it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Of course, if you find yourself going insane, I can drive by sometime so that you can whack me one. I hear that works well, too.

Good luck. Feel good!