Menopause can feel really weird. And that’s okay.
That’s the number one thing Richmond gynecologist Dr. Kristin Schraa wants menopausal women to know: What they’re experiencing is normal. “They’re not crazy, they’re not falling apart, this is just a transition, and they’re going to be fine,” Dr. Schraa says. Here are four other things women going through menopause need to know:
1. Mood changes may surprise you.
Most women know that mood changes are a common part of menopause, but few are prepared for the wild emotional ride. Dr. Schraa has seen it all: really bad PMS that precedes menopause, depression, irritability, and “just feeling like you’re crawling out of your skin.” Some women even lose interest in activities they once loved, which is called anhedonia.
You don’t have to just accept mood changes or depression, Dr. Schraa says. She advises patients to try exercise and meditation, and if problems persist, she may recommend an SSRI such as Wellbutrin or Prozac. As a side benefit, these have been clinically proven to help with hot flashes without the cardiovascular/cancer risks of hormone replacement therapy.
2. You can gain weight for no reason at all.
“I haven’t done anything differently at all, and I’m gaining weight!” women tell Dr. Schraa. It’s not fair, but it’s normal—just like the freshman 15. With menopause, women’s metabolism slows, and we don’t metabolize starches and sugars as well as we used to, she says. Active women who have always been able to eat a plate of spaghetti carbonara without gaining weight suddenly find they can’t do that anymore. Dr. Schraa delivers some tough love: “In all honesty, there is little to no nutritional value in pasta, bread, rice and soda, all that stuff. So they’ve got to cut that out.” She also recommends increasing the intensity of exercise routines and adding strength training, depending on each patient’s needs.
3. There is help for painful intercourse and vaginal dryness.
Decreased estrogen levels can cause the walls of the vagina to get thinner, in addition to vaginal dryness. As a result, intercourse can become painful, and women may experience chronic vaginal or urinary tract infections. But there’s good news: there are several simple ways to treat vaginal dryness/atrophy, including over the counter moisturizers/lubricants, or prescription intravaginal estrogen. For many patients, Dr. Schraa recommends MonaLisa laser therapy, which targets the vaginal mucosa and triggers the body’s natural healing response to generate new collagen and elastin. It’s a series of five-minute procedures that are slightly uncomfortable but not painful, and no sedation is needed. “They’re up and at ‘em immediately,” Dr. Schraa says. “It’s actually miraculous. It works great.”
4. The craziness of menopause doesn’t last forever.
Aggravating symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings are transient, Dr. Schraa reminds her patients. She reassures them that they’re just experiencing a transition—and that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Plus, there are upsides to menopause: “Not having to deal with periods anymore, and soon, no need for birth control!” she says.
Most importantly, Dr. Schraa wants every woman facing menopause to know “there are a lot of women out there that are feeling the exact same way that they are. They’re not alone.” And she’s on their side.
Experiencing symptoms of menopause or perimenopause? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Kristin Schraa, or another VWC provider.