How the health system is failing women going through menopause
Doctors aren’t genies, after all
While many women see menopause as a period of relief from everything related to monthly cramps and pregnancy scares, some women go through the most during the menopausal period of their lives.
Using the United States as an example, most women in the menopausal phase of their lives go through a smooth or mild transition. For these women, menopause is a gateway to freedom. Freedom from premenstrual mood swings. They say “goodbye” to all the negative things of the reproductive age. Bloodstained panties, gone; use of birth control, gone; monthly cramps, gone! While menopause kick-starts this underhyped chapter of a woman’s life, some other women see this phase as a state bombarded by health complications and zero rest.
On the other end of the scale are women who go through the journey of menopause with a series of severe hot flashes, sexual dysfunction, and insomnia. Women who go through the most during menopause tend to experience these symptoms for 15 -18 years. For these women, their period of menopause is labeled as a period of absolute discomfort and utmost demoralization.
Irrespective of our attitude towards menopause, women undergoing menopause are susceptible to numerous health risks. I will be sincere here; menopause isn’t like any other stages we as women go through. During menopause, we can go through some bizarre and hectic symptoms that could make no sense: heart diseases, rapid hormonal changes, and a rise in Low-Density Lipoprotein. Women going through menopause are susceptible to so many illnesses.
With this, we often search for the best ways to manage these symptoms. While the only appropriate medium of searching for solutions regarding our health is through medication, it becomes unfortunate when we analyze the number of lapses in the medical industry and how these lapses make the entire system tiring for menopausal women like us.
It is true that the medications we take to relieve the pain of menopause can produce good results. Other than easing the discomforts associated with menopause, these medications can also help prevent some chronic diseases that have led to the death of many women for decades. However, research shows that the percentage of menopausal women receiving the best medical care they deserve is meager.
Only a tiny minority of women are getting the appropriate medical care. Not just for menopause. Generally, of the people suffering from one illness or the other, only a tiny fragment of them end up getting treatment. In more detail, of the 100% of women experiencing menopausal symptoms, 60% seek medications, and of this 60%, nearly 75% are left untreated or without proper treatment. We cover all the menopause facts and figures in this article.
So why is this? Why are these lapses still existing, and why are they causing so much harm? After all, we are in the 21st century. Shouldn’t there be lasting solutions to these problems? All of these questions are still left unanswered. It is one of the reasons women are suffering needlessly.
“Jaz? Jaz? Can you come to my place? I think I’m going to die.”
It was the twelfth day of October 2019, three days to thanksgiving day in Canada. My perfect friend, Ellen, already invited me for Thanksgiving dinner with her family in Winnipeg. It means I had to fly from LA to Ottawa. We have been very close friends since childhood, but the relationship became less intense after she married a Canadian resident. With this, since our relationship became more casual, she had to move to Canada to start a family with Prince Charming. But then, I got her to invite them to join her family for Thanksgiving, so I was keen on making it there.
I woke very early that Saturday to catch the early morning flight. I checked my bedside clock to realize it wasn’t even midnight. Why then was I awake? Something must have woken me up. I was too tired to think, so I went back to sleep. I was asleep again in no time, and that was when the call that made me cancel my flight came. The call came from my younger sister, Nic, and it was a panic call.
“Jaz? Jaz? Can you come to my place? I think I’m going to die.” She said on the phone and then became silent. I was so scared that I didn’t know when I started driving to her place. I checked the time on the dashboard, which was 11:57 pm in California. I drove so fast, and I was at her place in less than half an hour. I pushed the door open to find her on the floor crying.
The sight was so scary I couldn’t utter a word. “my body is burning… I’m sure my heart has a million beats every second.” She said as I tried lifting her. “didn’t you take your meds?” I asked as I placed her on the brown couch that I assumed she fell off. “hold on, baby girl… I’ll call 911.” This time, I checked the table for any signs of drugs or alcohol, but I couldn’t find any. “Why didn’t you call 911?” After running out of questions, I finally asked. “it’s just my usual symptoms of menopause… nobody cares about those anymore.” WHAT?!
Nic, a beautiful, tall, slim woman with thick red hair and shiny blue eyes, is often regarded by my mom as the Kim Kardashian of the family. Owing to her perfect body and face, you would disagree less. She was a fashion designer in LA, and she sometimes models for her designs.
Her two kids, Summer and Kenan were away in New York to do whatever kids do after college, so she had all the peace and quietness to focus on her career. Nic entered menopause quite earlier than expected, and ever since, she has been on constant medications with lots of changes.
Nic was a fighter, so the medicines she was on didn’t stop her from making the best pieces of designs for her clients. And am I forgetting something? Oh yes… Nic’s kids were adopted. According to her, she wasn’t ready to lose shape from childbirth.
The sound of sirens filled the once quiet atmosphere of her neighborhood, and in no time, she was strapped to a bed and carried into the ambulance. The journey to the hospital was concise, but she was already stable and feeling better before we got to the clinic.
“Can we please go back? I think I’m feeling bett-“
“I don’t wanna hear that, so please keep that nonsense to yourself,” I cut her short. We got to the clinic, and we waited about half an hour before a doctor attended to us. At this point, Nic felt so normal. You wouldn’t believe that she was wailing in pain an hour ago.
“Good morning Nic Johansson… I’m Doctor Hart. Can you please tell me what’s wrong?” the handsome doctor said without looking at my face. “I’m fine,” Nic stated.
“She isn’t fine. Her chest burns so badly, and her heart keeps beating faster than normal” I said she was going through some symptoms related to menopause, but I decided to see what the doctor had to say.
“So Nic, are you in menopause?” Doctor Hart asked, and I knew we were in good hands. “Yes… y’all don’t have to label me that way all the damn time… I’m a fashion designer too, you know.”
“Nic is currently going through perimenopause, and she’s been through everything. We don’t think the meds are working. Can you please prescribe a lasting solution to this?” I asked after noticing the doctor’s unsatisfied look to Nic’s response.
“Well, the symptoms of menopause cannot be cured. So you have no choice but to live with it. Let’s look at the bright side. You get to kiss goodbye to the discomfort of your monthly periods.”
“But I’m also going through menopause. Why don’t I also experience severe symptoms like this?” I asked
“I don’t know, but I can tell you that every woman must undergo these symptoms. So it’s normal if your sister experiences them”
I looked at Nic’s face; she was not convinced about what the doctor said.
“But Doctor Hart,” she started, “these problems only started when I came to this clinic for medications for my hot flashes. Do you think those medications triggered the symptoms?”
“I can’t tell, but if you did more exercises and ate more vegetables, you probably wouldn’t be here.”
“What did you just say? Nic is a model. She engages in exercises all the damn time. She’s the fittest woman I have ever seen. She doesn’t eat anything that isn’t fresh,” I responded to the doctor’s careless statement.
“Can we please get a female doctor?” Nic asked the doctor as she tried to sit up from the bed. While trying to sit up, she started struggling with something, and her wailing began again. With this, the machines attached to her began to make these repeated beeps, and nurses began rushing into the room.
“Her heart rate is increasing uncontrollably. Call Doctor Khalid now!” the doctor yelled as two nurses ran in.
I watched as they all tried to make her heart normal again. What in the world was wrong with Nic?
Eventually, her heart began beating normally again, and at this point, my eyes were producing all the tears I couldn’t bring out in years. The sight was horrific.
“Nic has to go for some tests,” the doctor said “we’ll give you any further development,” he continued.
“sure… if that’ll give a solution, then go for it.”
The night was becoming long. I stayed in the cafeteria, waiting for the doctor to come out with a smiling face. The hospital was very crowded, and it was only 3 am. It is officially my worst night ever.
The doctor attended to me at about 3:50 am, and the news wasn’t pleasant. Nic was diagnosed with heart palpitation. It means she had a racing heart.
According to the doctor, her heart palpitations resulted from complications in treating her menopausal symptoms. Some months ago, Nic was at this hospital to undergo hormone replacement therapy. It was successful but has been attributed to being the cause of her racing heart.
“Can I see her now?”
“sure,” the doctor replied as he led me to where she was
She was conscious and with a smiling face. Typical Nic.
“bring everything to me. I’m ready for anything,” she said
I entered the room with doctor Hart behind me, and another doctor followed him.
“Hi Nic, this is Doctor Khalid, a cardiologist. He will be talking to you about all the problems you’ve been facing since getting to menopause.”
“Hi Nic, I’m Doctor Khalid. So, your heart keeps pounding, and fluttering is your changing hormone levels. Your heart sometimes starts beating very fast in the middle of a hot flash. You get that burning sensation, and then the pulses. While hot flashes are common during menopause, heart palpitations are less reported. We’ll be taking this case very seriously so you can go back to living a healthy life.”
Doctor Khalid gave us a very assuring speech, and after this, I was convinced that we were finally at the right place.
“so, Nic, when did the palpitations start?”
“last month,” she replied
“and how long do they last?”
“Sometimes minutes, sometimes seconds.”
“When last did you see your periods?”
“About eight months ago.”
“ok, Nic. You’re still in the perimenopause phase, so your heart palpitations will be temporary. However, we’ll give you some medicines to ensure a smooth transition into menopause without heart problems. Your heart rhythm will go back to normal, and you’ll experience only mild effects of menopausal symptoms while you transition into menopause.”
Unlike Doctor Hart, Doctor Khalid spoke like he knew what he was doing. He said with full authority and assured Nic that she’d be fine.
“And one more thing Nic, you were lucky you came to the hospital today. If you hadn’t made it here on time, your heart palpitations could have resulted in even more severe heart diseases. Have a lovely night, and let the medications do their job.”
We stayed in the hospital for three days. Nic was placed on constant medications, injections, drips, and therapy during this period. At the end of these three days, she felt much better and ready to go back to what she loves doing best; fashion design.
They gave her a few pills and continued medications from home, and we were ready to leave the clinic.
On our way out of the hospital, Doctor Khalid, the cardiologist, ran toward us. We stopped when we saw him. I was hoping it wasn’t going to be more complicated.
“Nic, Jasmine, I’m thrilled to see you two leaving, satisfied and happy with the medications you have received. I also want to apologize for how Doctor Hart responded to Nic’s situation some nights ago. Listen, many doctors today do not know so much about menopause. They understand so many things about the human body, but when it comes to menopause, they seem to be way behind.”
“Oh, Doctor Khalid… you don’t have to say this-
“No, I have to,” Doctor Khalid responded. “So many women going through the symptoms you came with do not leave with happy faces. Many women today come in bad and then leave with worse conditions. I’m happy you two are leaving, but I’m also sad that you are a small fragment of the many women who leave the clinic with happy faces. Do take care of yourselves. And help enlighten others on how your three days here went.”
At this point, it became clear why Doctor Khalid addressed us that way. So many women going through menopause do not expect any forms of complications. They become ignorant when some symptoms that require urgent attention are presented. Other women who see these symptoms and still make it to a doctor are not assured of the best medical care.
The World’s Reaction to Menopause
Menopause is a natural stage of every woman’s life. Irrespective of the cause, whether natural or artificial, a woman must get to that point of her life where she loses the ability to bear children. While this phase is primarily natural, we all know how hectic it can be for us.
With this, one would wonder how the world is reacting to women’s problems with menopause. According to research, only one-fourth of the women experiencing symptoms of menopause go to the hospital for treatment. Menopause isn’t taught effectively in our medical schools. Only 20% of aspiring doctors are comfortable with being taught about menopause. The remaining 80% do not get any form of training on menopause.
So many people today do not know that different women react differently to menopause. While some women like Nic go through the most severe symptoms during menopause, others like me do not experience any painful symptoms. For the women who go through the most severe symptoms, they go to the doctor, and the response is the same; “your menopause symptoms are normal,” “there’s nothing we can do about it,” “it will go eventually.”
In the United States, more than one million women get to the stage of menopause daily. These women go into menopause without any proper sensitization or enlightenment. They have no idea what they are going through and why they are going through it.
Now to the doctors, the professionals we look to for solutions to these problems. How are they catching up with the rising issues of menopausal symptoms? The truth is that the medical industry isn’t moving with the same phase as the problem itself. Ob-gyn, the branch of medicine that deals with obstetrics and gynecology, isn’t focusing very much on the issues of menopause.
Doctors in the ob-gyn department cannot explain how menopause and cardiovascular diseases are connected. Doctors specializing in menopause are very few, and women going through menopause are so much. With this, a doctor is responsible for treating up to 100 women.
The medical industry is simply not catching up.
Solutions to this Lingering Problem
As stated earlier, our doctors aren’t doing enough to help us with our menopausal problems. The best solution to this problem will be properly integrating menopause management courses into our medical schools’ medical curricula and training schemes.
With this, residents in our hospitals are not well equipped with ideas when they are presented with problems related to menopause. Hospitals should provide physicians with the best educational course on menopause. Maybe someone like Doctor Hart would have been more kind to us or known what to do.
Another solution will be the sensitization of women going through menopause. This way, we know when things are out of hand and when to seek help. Nic saw her racing heart as an average thing all women going through menopause must experience.
Little did she know that only a few women go through severe symptoms. As women, we are susceptible to more problems related to our reproductive health. We ought to educate ourselves on the entire concept of menopause and how we can adapt to it.