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Dispelling women's health myths

Riddle Hospital January 19, 2016 General Wellness

With so much information available at our fingertips, it can be easy to access everything you wanted to know about health as you age. But ensuring it’s correct? That’s a different story.

Below, Daria C. Yanez, MD, OB/GYN at Riddle Hospital exposes some of the most common myths facing women as they age, and the truth behind them.

Myth: Menopause begins at age 50.

Although the average age for women to go through menopause is 51, its symptoms can begin as early as 45 or as late as 55. There’s no need for concern if menopause begins earlier or later than the average age for you, but if you have questions about your symptoms, talk to your OB/GYN.

Myth: Bioidentical hormones are safer than traditional hormone therapy.

Because bioidentical hormones are a plant source of hormones and often referred to as ‘natural’, many women mistakenly assume that these are a safer alternative to hormone therapy. However, that’s not the case.

“Bioidentical hormones are processed in a laboratory the same way that traditional hormone therapeutic medications are, and they have the same risks as conventional hormone therapy,” explains Dr. Yanez. “As of now, there haven’t been any studies to suggest that bioidentical hormones are a safer option.”

Myth: Weight gain after menopause is inevitable.

Although fighting off weight gain after menopause is difficult, it’s not impossible. Thanks to a slower metabolism, weight loss becomes more difficult during perimenopause and menopause. Exercise and remaining diligent about a nutritious diet can help keep your weight in check.

Dr. Richard Ing, medical director of the Bariatric Program at Bryn Mawr Hospital, offers more tips on preventing post-menopausal weight gain.

Myth: Overactive bladder and urinary incontinence are the same thing.

Overactive bladder refers to the feeling of having to urinate frequently, but urinary stress incontinence refers to the loss of bladder control and urinary leakage. Both of these are common conditions, but can still be embarrassing topics for women to discuss with their physicians.

Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options, ranging from Kegel exercises and bladder training to vaginal pessaries. In the case of overactive bladder, medication may help and surgery can be an option for stress incontinence.

Myth: Sexual health is only a physical problem.

Although sexual health can seem like a strictly physical issue, there are many physical and psychological factors that affect a woman’s sexual health and function.

“The libido is located in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This helps explain why our sexual health is dependent upon our emotional well-being, as well as the physical changes that occur as we age,” explains Dr. Yanez.

If you’re experiencing decreased sexual function, talk to your doctor about addressing underlying psychological issues while pursuing treatment options for physical causes.

Myth: Testosterone and estrogen improve libido.

The hormone testosterone has long been linked to conversations about libido, and many women believe that low levels of this hormone is the cause for a low libido.

“Currently, testosterone is not FDA approved for use in women for improving libido. There have been no studies that show it is helpful in doses that would be considered safe for women,” says Dr. Yanez.

And it’s not just testosterone—in a large study of 27,000 women, hormone therapy including estrogen with and without progesterone failed to significantly improve sexual satisfaction among women.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of low libido, Dr. Yanez recommends talking to your physician. In 2015, Addyi, the only FDA-approved medication for low sex drive in pre-menopausal women, became available, but Dr. Yanez cautions that its side effects of low blood pressure and fainting should be considered.

Of course, as you age, you’ll continue to have questions about these topics and more. What’s important is having open and honest conversations with your OB/GYN about your concerns.

“Every woman’s health needs are different, but you should never feel uncomfortable asking questions, seeking second opinions, or asking about your options,” says Dr. Yanez. “You should be your biggest health advocate.”

Main Line Health gynecologists provide expertise in a wide range of services, including contraceptive services, care during perimenopause, and preventative care in the post-menopausal years. Visit our website to learn more about our OB/GYN services.