In this article I’m interviewing Ellen Dolgen, top menopause blogger, menopause awareness expert and author of the book “Shmirsky: the pursuit of hormone happiness”. Here are her tips about how to prepare for menopause.
Dr. Mache Seibel: How do you start the conversation with women when you’re talking about menopause?
Ellen Dolgen: No one gets a hold-the-date notice for when perimenopause is going to arrive at their door. So it’s really important to be prepared and to understand that perimenopause often happens between the ages of 38 and 48. Every woman is different, but the symptoms can start coming and creeping up on you. The average age of menopause is 51. So once women realize this, it’s really important for them to understand what the potential symptoms are in perimenopause.
Dr. Seibel: Tell me some of the more common ones.
Ellen Dolgen: First of all, sleeplessness that leads to feeling grumpy, more irritable and very snappy, and that often causes memory lapses. Many women also find that without even realizing it, all of a sudden they have become a member of the “sisterhood of the shrinking pants.” They’ve gained weight and they’re not happy about this. And then of course there are the more obvious symptoms, which are the hot flashes. Just feeling like you’re not in control of your own emotions.
Dr. Seibel: A bit like PMS, isn’t it?
Ellen Dolgen: Yeah, it’s worse than that. I reached out to the men in the world and asked them: is PMS or menopause more difficult for men to understand? And they all said that actually the menopause is more difficult for them to understand because the PMS kind of comes and goes. But if a woman doesn’t really have a good menopause specialist and isn’t getting the support she needs, her whole family is living with symptoms of menopause that are quite difficult.
Dr. Seibel: And that’s huge because of the important role that women play in their households. In many households, the woman is working, and in addition, she’s the core facilitator for the household. So, she’s got the things that she’s doing at home, at work, and then she’s trying to deal with her parents and she’s trying to deal with her kids and then she’s trying to deal with her husband who does not understand what the heck happened to her. So what’s a girl to do?
Ellen Dolgen: Well, just like you said, you can’t leave your menopause on the kitchen counter when you leave the house. It goes to work with you, it goes everywhere with you. So, what you want to do is to understand what you’re going through. You want to trust how you feel so that you get the help you deserve.
Dr. Seibel: I think that is important because you’re saying two things: one, there a lot of symptoms that can start as early as your mid-thirties or even before for some women. And that if you realize you’re having some of these symptoms, then the next thing to do is to make sure you make some time for yourself and get help to deal with these symptoms because most can be helped if you get the right assistance.
Ellen Dolgen: Right. Women don’t have to power through this. My motto is, “reaching out is in; suffering in silence is out.” There are options, and I want to help women find them and so are you which is so wonderful.
Dr. Seibel: You think that women have been dealing with the notion that they can do it all and have to do it all, and have to tough it out, and just feel that if they give in to it, it’s a bad thing?
Women don’t have to power through this. My motto is, “reaching out is in; suffering in silence is out.”
Ellen Dolgen: Women are used to taking care of everyone else and have a very difficult time taking care of themselves. So, usually we’re last on the list and things fall to the wayside and then it builds up; and what I find is women really don’t reach out until they’re desperate. It’s better to reach out when you are in perimenopause because you can get more prevention help for future problems like osteoporosis and heart disease and Alzheimer’s. You want to get the help when you are in perimenopause.
Dr. Seibel: That’s right. All the data coming in now is really confirming that the earlier that you seek intervention, the more preventive benefit you’re going to get.
Ellen Dolgen: That’s really one of the big key messages I want to get out there because women are basing their healthcare on fear instead of fact. They’re fearful of some of the options because they don’t understand the new studies and the new information.
Dr. Seibel: That’s my goal because the data keeps changing. A decade ago when the women’s health initiative came out it suggested that breast cancer, blood clots and heart attack and strokes were increased if a woman took estrogen. Estrogen went from being something that women would take all the time to something they were afraid to take. Women were throwing their estrogen pills into the trashcan and suffering immensely; and many were really unhappy.
Ellen Dolgen: It’s really unfortunate because as you said, after the 2002 study, women went cold turkey off their hormones. But it’s important for women to understand that many new studies that have come out since 2002. They don’t need to be as fearful. They should talk to their menopause specialist and talk about the options available and have the doctor explain to them the new studies.
You have to sit down with your specialist, evaluate your personal risks and benefits, and have your doctor help you make an individualized life program
I do have my menopause Monday’s newsletter that comes out every Monday. It’s free if you sign up for it at www.ellendolgen.com. And on Thursdays you will also get the latest links to the latest studies delivered to your email box. So, I try to make it easy for women to read the studies. But you still have to sit down with your specialist and you have to evaluate your personal risks and benefits, and have your doctor help you make an individualized life program for you. But you don’t have to suffer.
Dr. Seibel: With so much information and with so much of it changing and confusing, how do you advice women to prepare for a visit with the doctor because office visits are short. You’ve got to go in here ready to get your information.
Ellen Dolgen: Exactly. My book Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness is kind of a girlfriend guide because I’m not a doctor or a scientist, but I’ve gone through it and I had a difficult time. I figured it out and I want to help other women. So, I created in my book, a menopause symptom’s chart and you can also get it free if you sign up for my newsletter on ellendolgen.com.
What I suggest women do is to take the symptoms chart and chart their symptoms every night before they go to bed — it takes five minutes to answer these questions — and chart your symptoms and take the chart in with you when you go for your appointment because the symptoms chart will quickly and very clearly tell your menopause specialist exactly how you feel; and how you feel is half of the conversation. The other half is of course the blood work and other testing.
Dr. Seibel: That make sense because when you’re trying to get pregnant, there are temperature charts that you bring in to show when you have intercourse or when you’re having a period; for PMS there are PMS symptom that you fill in to show when your symptoms occur. So, it makes sense to have a consolidated place to frame the symptoms that you’re having surrounding menopause. You can see what is bothering you, how much is it bothering you and what the biggest things are you need to discuss with your doctor.
Ellen Dolgen: Yeah because knowledge is power. We can look at the chart and go “Okay. I’m not losing my mind. I see now that throughout these two weeks this is how I felt, wow! I do need to get help, I do need to find a menopause specialist.”