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Real Talk
10 Things You Shouldn't Say to a Colleague Going Through Menopause
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AnnaMarie Houlis
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When the ovaries stop making estrogen and progesterone, which are two hormones necessary for fertility, women go into menopause. Menopause is a natural process that affects all women differently, but there's one common denominator: it inevitably changes the body.

Some of the side effects of menopause include fatigue, hot flashes and sweats, hair loss, brain fog, weight gain and more, which can all affect her appearance and productivity at work. If you have a coworker going through menopause, there are some words you should never say.

Don’t make menopause any tougher for the women in your office living with it by making one of these snide comments.

1. "But you're not old enough for menopause yet."

There are a number of factors that affect the age that a woman goes into menopause. The most significant factor is genetics, meaning the age a woman's mother experienced natural menopause. Natural menopause usually happens around 51 years old, at the culmination of a woman’s menstrual cycle, just about a year after her last menstrual period. That said, it can also naturally occur before the age of 40, which would be considered premature menopause. This could be the result of an inherited issue or a one-time genetic mutation. 

For some women, it can be brought on even earlier as a result of surgery or treatment of a disease or an illness — that’s recognized as induced or surgical menopause, or premature ovarian failure.

While you may think you're complimenting her, telling her she's too young could be to negate a host of health problems with which she may be privately coping. She may be facing health issues that she doesn't want to share with her coworkers, or she may just have hit menopause earlier. All women are different.

2. "Did you forget to take your hormones today?"

Among the aforementioned side effects, menopause can cause mood swings, difficulty concentrating and memory lapses, which can affect a woman's workplace performances. Some women choose to explore hormone therapy options to treat the symptoms of menopause, such as estrogen therapy, which is reported to be the most effective treatment option for relieving menopausal hot flashes. Some women choose both estrogen and progesterone therapy, called combination hormone therapy (HT) or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This option reportedly helps with vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes.

That said, not everyone can even explore hormone therapy options even if they wanted to. There are some cardiovascular and breast cancer risks associated with long-term use of hormone therapy. For example, anyone who has ever had breast cancer, uterine or "endometrial" cancer, blood clots, liver disease or a stroke are advised not to get hormonal therapy, and anyone who might be pregnant or has undiagnosed vaginal bleeding are also advised against hormonal therapy. 

Meanwhile, many women choose to treat their symptoms without hormones but, instead, with non-invasive techniques like acupuncture and meditation. Asking a woman in menopause if she's forgotten to take her hormones is rude regardless — but it's especially rude because it's ignorant of other health issues with which she may be dealing, and it's ignorant of her personal choices in treatment.

3. "You're so lucky you don't get your period anymore!"

Sure, not having to carry around tampons, wear diaper-like pads or free bleed into period panties anymore may sound like a beautifully imminent future. But dealing with menopause isn't necessarily "better" than dealing with menstrual cycles. It's just different — and it comes with many of the same symptoms, plus some new ones. 

Some other symptoms of menopause include loss of libido, racing heart, headaches/dizziness, vaginal dryness and soreness, painful sex, sleep disturbances such as insomnia, incontinence, brittle nails, changes to body odor, depression/anxiety/irritability/panic disorder, breast pain, joint pain/muscle tension, electric shock sensation/tingling extremities, digestive issues, itchy/crawly skin, gum problems and osteoporosis. The point is: Both periods and menopause can be physically and emotionally draining.

Let's not compare apples to oranges.

4. "You look like you haven't slept in days."

Telling a woman who looks like she hasn't slept in days — who probably hasn't slept in days — does not help the fact that she probably will not sleep for some or a lot more days. In fact, the transition to menopause can take about one to three years, which means that many women may "look like they haven't slept" for years.

5. "It's really not hot it here."

Many women going through menopause experience can experience hot flashes, which are sudden feelings of feverish heat due to blood vessels opening and constricting. Hot flashes are indiscriminate and can occur at any time, regardless of the temperature. They can also last from a few seconds to a half hour.

It doesn't matter whether or not you're hot — or if the thermostat is set to a cool temperature. She's hot.

6. "Wait, you're still going through menopause?"

Menopause happens in three stages that take some time.

  1. Perimenopause occurs three to five years before menopause when estrogen and hormone levels start to drop. This is typically the period when women feel the most symptoms.
  2. Menopause officially happens when a woman misses her period for 12 straight months (without other causes like illnesses, medication, pregnancy or breastfeeding). This transition can take about one to three years.
  3. Postmenopause is the stage a woman enters after one year has passed since her last menstrual cycle. She might still experience vasomotor symptoms during this stage.

The point is: Menopause is a long, slow process that affects all women differently. Don't doubt your coworker. Just support her.

7. "Are you acting like that because of a hormonal thing?"

The answer is probably yes. Keep this question to yourself.

8. "Did you remember to...?"

Many menopausal women have difficulty remembering things and can experience brain fog. They may often draw blanks on names, for example. For some, memory loss is so intense that they worry they're developing dementia. Fortunately, in 2009, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles found that in the more than 2,000 women they studied over four years, memory and learning ability tended to return after menopause. 

If your coworker has forgotten something, try to help them to remember instead of worrying them more.

9. "Can't you take something for that?"

Women have options for treating the symptoms of menopause but, because it's a natural process, there's no cure for it. All women (unless they have some specific circumstances) will go through menopause at some point. When they do, some will choose to treat the symptoms of it with the aforementioned hormonal therapy or natural, non-invasive techniques. And others will choose to make some lifestyle changes to better cope with their symptoms. Regardless of what they do, however, menopause will inevitably change their bodies — and change in and of itself is will take an adjustment.

10. "I can't believe you have to use the bathroom again!"

Yes, she has to use the bathroom again. Why? During menopause, changes can happen to a woman’s urinary function. Basically, urogenital atrophy, the deterioration of the urinary tract and vagina, happens when estrogen levels decrease. And when that happens, the urinary tract’s ability to control urination also decreases. Plus, of course, there are some debilitating effects on the pelvic area organs and tissues as women age in general.

As a result, your menopausal coworker may be experiencing the need to urinate more urgently and frequently.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.

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