Every woman can expect to experience menopause, but not all women will have the same experience. For some women, the hormone shift that causes menopause will be barely noticeable, while for other women this hormone shift will significantly alter their quality of life.
“Among African American women, symptoms tend to be more intense compared to Hispanic and white women,” said Nishath Ali, MD, co-director of The Menopause Center at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. The Study of Women Across the Nation, or SWAN study, has demonstrated that Black women are also more likely to enter menopause earlier and experience menopause symptoms longer than other ethnicities. Dr. Ali has made it her life’s work to educate women about these differences and empower them to use all that modern medicine has to offer so that they can thrive during menopause.
Menopause is a normal part of aging, but its bothersome symptoms, such as poor sleep, night sweats and mood changes, can be improved.
While symptoms such as hot flashes are well-known indicators of menopause, many quieter symptoms can have a significant effect on a woman’s life. For example, dropping estrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness, which not only causes discomfort during sex, but also can increase the risk of bladder infections and urine leakage.
“I think the biggest misconception [about menopause] is that you just have to deal with these symptoms without there being much to improve,” said Dr. Ali. It’s important, however, to seek treatment early to receive maximum benefit from the options available.
Beneficial lifestyle changes
“The way that you set your health up during this transition can set the tone for where you’ll be decades from now,” said Dr. Ali. She encourages all of her patients to stay as active as they can at the beginning of menopause and continue that pattern for the next decade of transition. Maintaining a healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables can also be an important part of treatment. These two changes can offset the increased risk of heart disease and diabetes that come with menopause.
There are a variety of safe options that can treat systemic symptoms such as hot flashes, or local concerns like vaginal dryness. Dr. Ali encourages her patients to seek “general education about what is safe and well-studied in terms of hormone regimens and ask questions if they have concerns about the safety of hormone therapies.”
Many treatments for menopause don’t rely on hormone replacement but target individual symptoms. For example, a weakening pelvic floor that might contribute to urine leakage or general discomfort can be treated with physical therapy. Likewise, Dr. Ali always makes sure that she is paying attention to any mood concerns from her patients.
“We think about hot flashes and night sweats in relation to menopause, but new onset anxiety, new onset depression or exacerbation of symptoms that have been previously well managed is also very common and it often goes under-recognized that this might be related to menopause,” said Dr. Ali.
Finding the care that you need
Menopause has a variety of symptoms and significant potential to interrupt your life, so it’s essential to find a provider who hears you, and understands how menopause can uniquely affect a Black woman’s life.
Considering a clinic that specializes in menopause care can offer you a team of providers who are interested in your overall wellbeing. Dr. Ali was drawn to menopause care because she saw that with appropriate education, a woman’s life can be significantly improved.
“Oftentimes it was an unmet need that I enjoyed being able to manage and one that some people like to avoid because it is a hard conversation to have,” she said.
She urges women to seek treatment early and to be willing to discuss their symptoms
openly with their provider.
“There is a window of opportunity where you at least should be educated about what
your options are, because once you’re out of the window, the benefits of treatment are less and sometimes the risk is more,” said Dr. Ali.
Learn more about The Menopause Center at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women by calling 832-826-5281.