Hormones are wondrous things. They control our sexual desires, our body temperature, our moods. And when a woman is in menopause, they control pretty everything else too, right down to the chin hairs that sprout on her face seemingly overnight. Women in menopause can be testier, easier to bring to tears or anger and more forgetful than ever before in their lives. Here are five things that you should probably never say to them:
1. "What does a hot flash feel like?"
Since the mere mention of a hot flash frequently serves as a trigger for one to occur, we suggest you refrain from asking this question. But for those who insist on knowing, the expression "sweating like a pig" probably best describes it -- although we know of no research to suggest that pigs actually sweat as much as a menopausal woman does. A hot flash is a sudden surge in skin temperature that causes rivers of perspiration to gush down your forehead, breasts and back. Clothing sticks to the body and effort must be made to refrain from disrobing completely in public or demanding that the butcher allow you to stand in his meat freezer with the other carcasses who are dead or wish they were dead. A hot flash can and is most likely to strike at the most inopportune moments, including but not limited to: when your mate feels romantic and thinks touching you might be fun; when your 30-something boss stops by your desk for a friendly chat; in the middle of the night, just after you showered and changed the sheets from the previous hot flash, which occurred 30 minutes earlier.
2. "Isn't there something you can take for that?"
Really? You think? Damn, why didn't I think of that! Suggesting to a menopausal woman that she simply hasn't fully explored every possible hot flash remedy is an invitation for mayhem to be inflicted on your head. Almost 75 percent of American women suffer from hot flashes and night sweats during menopause, according to MenopauseChitChat.com. Every possible remedy has been discussed and tried in order of escalating seriousness.
Hormone replacement therapy, of course, remains the big gun when it comes to shooting down hot flashes, and trust us, nobody turns to hormones lightly. Aside from the fact that whenever you do decide to go off them, your symptoms will return, hormone replacement therapy has been marred with controversy. The NIH cautions that "[hormone replacement therapy] can increase your risk of breast cancer, heart disease and stroke." We'd add that millions of women take them because they work. Within weeks, sometimes just days, night sweats and hot flashes all but evaporate.
3. "You aren't old enough to be in menopause."
If this is meant to be a compliment, it is one rooted in ignorance. While the average age of the onset of menopause is 51, it can start much sooner than that for some women. Certain medical treatments push women in to early menopause as well. And while perhaps what you were trying to say is "You don't look like you are 51, which I know to be the average age of menopause," that just isn't going to be what is heard. Try instead, "You look really nice in blue (or whatever color she is wearing at the moment)."
4. "Can you turn down the air conditioning?"
No, she cannot, will not, shall not. It is akin to asking her to self-mutilate. You, on the other hand, may add another sweater, scarf and gloves to your summer office outfit. A menopausal woman only has so many layers she can take off without pushing the office dress code to the limit.
5. "Did you remember to...?"
Take this one to the bank: No, she did not remember it -- whatever it was. Days of the week, names, why she walked into the kitchen -- none of it. Weekends always have a distinctive feel to them. But Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays do not. Do not expect a menopausal woman to remember any meeting that is scheduled for mid-week; it just won't happen. Asked to wear a name tag at a meeting? It was probably the idea of a menopausal woman. In fact, if you wanted to be really helpful, you would wear a name tag pretty much every time you walked up to her -- that or accept being addressed as "Hon" all the time. Documentation of memory loss as a symptom of menopause is fairly new. A study published in the journal Menopause said that women who had the most -- and the most intense -- hot flashes also experienced the most severe memory issues.