By 2030, there will be 1.2 billion women who are 50+ in menopause suffering with over 34 different symptoms including hot flashes, mood swings, dryness, gum problems, changes in body odor, weight gain, sexual issues and more.
"Menopause is natural and every women goes through the change of life," said Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor Dept Ob/Gyn, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-author of "V is for Vagina." "Menopause is not an illness but you can treat the symptoms, which can be disruptive, uncomfortable and embarrassing."
Although there are no known physiologic differences between lesbians and heterosexual women when it comes to menopause, there are behaviors and risk factors that are more common amongst lesbian women that may affect health status and the menopausal transition in general.
Studies have reported higher rates of obesity, depression, smoking, and alcohol use in the lesbian population. Menopausal hot flashes and night sweats are more common and potentially more severe in those who are overweight, smoke or drink alcohol. In addition, the risk of type 2 diabetes, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease are higher in those who smoke, drink or are overweight, further compounding the presence and severity of menopausal symptoms.
Mood volatility is not unusual during menopause and depression could intensify. Null parity (never having given birth) in general carries a higher risk of uterine, ovarian and breast cancers. Since many lesbian women have not borne children, their rates of these cancers may be increased.
Similar preventative screening and care is recommended for all women based on medical risk, regardless of sexual orientation with counseling for weight control, exercise, and avoidance of toxic habits when appropriate. In addition, general recommendations for mammography, pap smears, colorectal cancer screening, hormone therapy and osteoporosis screening also should be followed for all women.
For coupled lesbians both hitting menopause at the same time, Dr. Dweck believes that this could be an advantage.
"Both partners might sympathize with and understand the menopausal plight of the other. Sharing ways to handle menopausal symptoms when it comes to feminine discomfort, namely vaginal dryness can benefit a relationship," said Dweck. "During menopause I tell all of my patients, to use Replens Gel or Replens Silky Smooth, or Wet Platinum to combat menopausal dryness issues to alleviate any type of vaginal discomfort. While not all women experience uncomfortable menopausal symptoms, one glass half full view.... if both women are suffering, at least the thermostat setting might be agreed upon!"
Hormones, hot flashes and jalapenos. Here are a few useful solutions to key menopausal symptoms and easy fixes from Dr. Dweck:
1. Weight Gain: Many women, even those who exercise regularly and have a healthful diet gain weight, especially around the belly and hips. Weight-bearing exercise, cardio and proper diet are vital. For some, hormone replacement can help. Stress reduction is essential for the body and mind.
2. Hot Flashes: Hot flashes are common and can flare up anytime. Stay cool by wearing light layers of clothing with natural wicking fibers, use fans and keep your bedroom cool at night. Consider dietary manipulation and stress reduction. Ask your doctor about medications, like Effexor and Bridsell, to relieve hot flashes.
3. Vaginal Dryness: Hot flashes and night sweats may eventually go away, but decreases in estrogen cause vaginal tissues to become thin, less elastic and dry causing pain during intimacy, discomfort, itching and irritation even among those who are not sexually active. A combination of Replens Moisturizer once every three days and a silicone lubricant like Replens Silky Smooth just before sex can alleviate painful sex.
4. Night Sweats & Sleep Disorders: Hot flashes often gang up at night and lack of sleep can take a toll on your body, impacting energy levels, emotions, weight gain and libido. Lowering the thermostat at night and using cooling sheets and pillows can alleviate the severity. Try taking melatonin or ask your doc about a prescription to help you get a full nights rest.
5. Low Libido: Sex increases good health and vitality. The oxytocin released with hugging, stimulation and orgasm can increase feelings of calm and safety and cortisol levels drop and sleep may improve. During orgasm, there is also an increased release of prolactin, which helps you fall asleep faster and more efficiently. Women suffering from hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), might have a new medication option, Flibanserin, recently recommended for approval at the FDA.
6. Nutrition: Want to enhance libido? Consider this amino acid! Try, arginine, to boost sex drive naturally found in granola, oatmeal, nuts, seeds, eggs, coconut milk and root veggies. Aphrodisiacs including chocolate, red wine, oysters, bananas, avocado, salmon and walnuts, chile peppers, figs, honey and soy to promote blood flow and lubrication.