Month: May 2020

Treating Menopausal Symptoms


19 May 2020

Hi, thank you for coming back for the latest edition of the Beyond Primary Cares blog; treating menopausal symptoms. In my blogs I highlight healthy and fun recipes, healthcare news, advice for medical conditions, as well as how membership for care works! Dr. Jeff O’Boyle is the owner of Beyond Primary Care, which is an insurance free, membership based family medicine and addiction medicine clinic. Beyond Primary Care is the only Direct Care clinic serving patients in Ann Arbor and throughout Washtenaw, Livingston, and Wayne County giving families and employers peace of mind with healthcare costs by providing affordable, accessible, and authentic primary care services.

The primary purpose of the blog is to introduce healthy lifestyle concepts and answer common questions I receive from patients that I believe are important. I want to start discussions that will help educate, benefit, and improve your well-being. 

In this blog post, I’m glad to welcome a guest blogger, my friend Liza Baker. Liza is the owner of Simply: Health Coaching and is a full-time health coach and nonprofit consultant, author, blogger, and podcaster with a soft spot for supporting women in their 40s and above. This is a collaboration blog-piece, where we wanted to educate our patients and the community on treating menopausal symptoms, specifically how role lifestyle and nutrition can positively influence those changes, and what medications can positively influence those changes.

Menopausal, peri-, and post-

First, a little bit of clarity to the menopause timeline:

  • Menopause is defined as the complete cessation of the menstrual cycle for 12 months, after which time it is extremely rare for it to resume. The average age at which menopause occurs in the United States is 52.
  • Peri-menopause is the period of our lives when our bodies (if not our conscious thoughts) begin to move toward the end of our child-bearing years, and it can begin as long as 10 years before the final menstrual cycle—that’s right: you can enter menopause as early as your late 30s to early 40s. And yes, you can still get pregnant during these years! (As we know from the British comedy Sex Education!)
  • Women are considered post-menopausal once they have been cycle-free for 12 months.

Importance of Identifying Menopausal Symptoms

Every woman experiences menopause differently. Some of us reach the end of our cycles almost without noticing; others don’t have a period for some months and then get surprised to find that it was just loitering in there—and then we need to start the countdown over again. Your “regular” periods may have stopped years ago—regular in the sense of timing and in their length and heaviness. 

Like most women, you may have an idea what to expect:

  • Physical symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, dizziness, nausea, breast tenderness, insomnia, skin changes, abnormal uterine bleeding, urine incontinence, and headaches. 
  • Changes in mood such as increased anxiety, reduced sex drive, memory issues, and fluctuations in mood. 

These symptoms can last months to years, and even post menopause, you can still sometimes “feel menopausal.” These symptoms can be severe, disruptive, and even feel embarrassing at times. 

In a previous blog post, Liza reminds us that it doesn’t help to approach this shift in hormones as a problem, like we are entering this stage of life from the perspective of “we’re broken.” Instead, it’s important to approach this as a woman’s health experience within the context of identifying your own symptoms and getting clarity about possible therapies for treating menopausal symptoms.

Treating Menopausal Symptoms —and causes

You may have mined the women’s health section of your local bookstore looking for informed (dare we say evidence-based) resources to guide you. What you likely found is a broad spectrum of seemingly science-based approaches from “here is why you should be on hormone replacement therapy (HRT)” to “here is why you absolutely should NOT be on HRT!”

Liza is a firm believer that when advice falls on a spectrum (HRT: YES! NO!), the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. And having learned that many of the top health problems in our country are so-called “lifestyle diseases”—meaning that they can be reversed and/or prevented through our food and lifestyle choices.

Putting Experience Into Practice

Liza’s personal experience with peri-menopause involved a large number of the most commonly recognized symptoms listed above—including raging migraines after decades of their absence and an appearance by anxiety and panic attacks, neither of which she’d ever experienced before.

And perhaps because Liza had been raised with fairly good food and lifestyle choices and began to make even better ones once she had her own family, many of my/her symptoms were quite mild.

That said, as a health coach, her work with clients is based on the principle of bio-individuality: your perimenopause is not my perimenopause; what works for you may not work for me; your kale may be my kryptonite. Dr. O’Boyle explains it this way: “Discussing the scope of treatment … is extensive and always carries asterisks for certain populations…. Treatment is multi-dimensional and must be individualized, your classic N of 1 trial.”

What matters most is that we—as patients/clients and as practitioners—take a holistic approach: yes, it’s about reducing the severity of symptoms—and about taking a longer view of what caused them and how we can shift that in a more positive direction. It’s as much (more?) about prevention as it is about a cure.

And it’s about giving you—the patient—permission to have some agency over your health care. As Dr. O’Boyle says, “Mainstream medicine has a challenge: continue to ignore your story and lose you to a subjective fantasy built on the mistakes of our brain, or join you in your life story ensuring you are taking responsibility for your wellbeing while making you central to the care and cure.”

Treating Menopausal Symptoms with Medications

The stress involved with menopause can be disruptive on many levels. Some women feel awful, and don’t want to be subjected to a physical exam, let alone interact with a physician when they can’t interact with their families, co-workers, and friends in a way that has meaning. At Beyond Primary Care, you can be assured there will be no judgement, no unnecessary physical exams, just compassion and an opportunity to share your story.

At Beyond Primary Care, I use an eclectic and personalized approach—not a “canned” conversation- towards accessing and resolving life changes and stressors. In a thorough health history, I am going to ask about your family, where your quality of life is being most affected, and—most importantly—what you want to do. I find validation of your concerns and education are often powerful methods in support when you are not feeling well. As you read above, some women prefer enhancing their diet and exercise along with support in allowing their symptoms to play out more naturally.

If more holistic approaches of treatment don’t work, I [Dr. Jeff O’Boyle] can get innovative with estrogen and progesterone hormone replacement therapy (HRT), depending on your needs. Getting the dosage right using hormone patches, pills, and creams is always individualized, and I [Dr. Jeff O’Boyle] works with my [his] patients to customize how much or how little may be needed. While HRT is sometimes a last resort for a woman, the relief it gives can be life-changing. Additionally, just like a great chef (shamless cook book plug) with their ingredients, I am constantly measuring and remeasuring your for safety and goal achievement.

Decisions, decisions

Consider this your permission to make a decision about treating perimenopausal symptoms based on what’s right for you—because you do have options!

If you suspect some of what you are experiencing may be due to perimenopause, or if you notice any coworkers, friends, or family members silently struggling, send them a link to this post so that they can join the conversation!

Please share comments and questions below. You can also contact Dr. O’Boyle or Liza Baker directly. We look forward to hearing from you!