(NEW YORK) — As more women pull back the curtain on their journeys with menopause — a topic that previously felt taboo to discuss openly — Jancee Dunn dives into the subject in her new book, Hot and Bothered: What No One Tells You About Menopause.
For Dunn, the first signs of menopause started when she turned 45.
“I had no idea what it was. I wasn’t in that space at all,” she told Good Morning America.
While there were plenty of pregnancy books on the shelves, Dunn said she found just one outdated book on menopause from the ’90s. So she set out to change that, spoke with experts in the field and wrote the book she wished she’d had.
“I really wanted to write a book where there was humor in it and not make it so dire,” she said.
Her book instead offers simple advice on how she handled some of the common symptoms, like hot flashes. “I breathe in, count of five, hold it for eight count, then breathe out. There’s something about giving yourself control,” she said.
Other symptoms she outlined include brain fog, mood change, irregular periods, thinning hair and dry skin.
“[Skin is] probably going to get dryer and more sensitive and your go-to products might not work any more,” Dunn explained from her personal experience. “You want something that gets rid of that dry outer layer. Gentle retinol products can help.”
Dunn also shared her message to women struggling with menopause: “Normalize this transition by talking as much as possible to everyone you know about it. The more we talk about it, the more normal it is. Less scary it is.”
ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent and OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Ashton shared her expertise to further shed light on the topic and help women better understand the phase of time and transition.
When does menopause begin?
“The average age of menopause in this country is 51. It can start as early as 45 or even earlier,” Ashton said. “Perimenopause can start 10 years before menopause actually begins.”
What is perimenopause?
“Our definition is one year without a menstrual period,” Ashton said.
What are the perimenopause symptoms?
The head-to-toe symptoms, as Ashton called it, include “bleeding patterns can change, mood swings, skin changes, hair change [and] weight changes.”
“It is so pervasive and so distinctive woman to woman that we tend to say to a woman 40 and up, ‘If you are experiencing something new, something different, think hormonal, think perimenopause or menopause first.’ That’s how diverse and broad the signs and symptoms are,” Ashton said.
Recommendations for menopause symptoms
“The first thing we have to remember is that hormone replacement therapy is and should be an option on the table for the vast majority of women,” Ashton said, adding that “women should talk to their gynecologist about that.”
When it comes to hot flashes specifically, Ashton said, “There are numerous non-hormonal prescription medications that work very effectively.”
Additionally, she said wellness behaviors can help, such as getting exercise and avoiding alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods, which, she says, can trigger the onset of a hot flash.
What to know about hormone replacement therapy
“Women have to discuss this with their gynecologist,” she encouraged.
While some are weary of the treatment, Ashton pointed to the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative trial, in which “data was boiled down to a misleading headline: ‘Hormones bad, hormones dangerous.’ Now, there are oncologists who actually, in evaluating the data both past and present, really find that most data suggests and shows conclusively that estrogen does not increase the risk of breast cancer.”
When it comes to other conditions that affect women, Ashton said, “Heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia cause more deaths than breast cancer and there are some real benefits to hormones.”
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