No one is talking about menopause, not even your doctor

KIRO Newsradio, Features reporter

“My whole body was doing all of these crazy things and I just didn’t know what was going on,” said Kirkland’s Jessica Butts.

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Two years ago, when Butts turned 46 years old, she wasn’t feeling like her usual, extroverted, bubbly self.

“Multiple times during the month, I wanted to murder people,” Butts said. “I was aggressive, I was angry. I also wanted to retreat from people. I had hormonal acne for the first time. I was just not myself.”

Turns out Butts was experiencing symptoms of perimenopause, but she didn’t know it.

“Nobody was talking about it, none of my friends were talking about it,” Butts said. “I went to see a naturopath, which, I’ll be honest, she wasn’t super helpful. The fact that no one identified that I was having less estrogen, therefore my testosterone was peaking, I just thought more people need to be talking about this.”

That’s exactly why New York therapist Donna Klassen started the nonprofit Let’s Talk Menopause and recently launched the country’s first menopause awareness campaign.

“We started in New York City and we have over 200 subway ads with the slogan, ‘It’s Not just In Your Head,'” Klassen said. “Basically letting people know that they’re not alone and that they need to advocate for themselves to get the treatment that they need and the support they deserve.”

Advocating for yourself is essential because: “Doctors aren’t trained in menopause,” Klassen said.

“Right now, menopause is an elective in most medical schools, so 80-plus percent of OBGYN residents feel unprepared to discuss menopause,” she explained.

Half the population is going to go through menopause, every woman is going to go through menopause, so I wondered, how that could be acceptable?

“It’s not acceptable and that’s why we need to change it,” Klassen said. “It basically got taken out of the curriculum in the early 1990s and it has not been put back into the curriculum. There’s a way for providers to take some extra courses and get certified, and some providers are doing that, but basically it’s criminal. We need to get the treatment and the health care we deserve.”

A 2019 Mayo Clinic study of medical residents found that only 7% surveyed said they felt competent in menopause care.

“It’s a huge part of the patriarchy,” Butts said. “Most of the doctors are still male. They are still making the decisions on what we’re studying, and aging women are not as important. We are a cast away group of people.”

Butts felt let down by the medical community and took matters into her own hands.

“Sadly, I did it on my own,” Butts said. “It was absolutely self study, and thank God for the internet. What did women do 20, 30, 40 years ago? I did dozens of hours of research.”

“Part of the problem, I think, is that every woman is very, very different,” she added. “We have different symptoms, we have different severity, there is not a one-size-fits-all.”

Menopause is still a taboo topic that doesn’t get discussed very often.

“People know about hot flashes but they don’t know about some of the lesser known symptoms,” Klassen said. “People don’t know that irritability is a symptom of perimenopause. They don’t talk about painful sex. They don’t talk about low sex drive. Yet there’s Viagra that’s paid for by insurance, there’s a gazillion commercials about men and sexual problems and treatments, but nobody talks about women.”

“They don’t talk about urinary incontinence or leaking that happens to many women after the age of 50,” Klassen continued. “They don’t talk about increased UTIs and connect those symptoms to menopause. Women need to know that there are treatment options, and doctors need to know and talk proactively to their patients and ask them, ‘Do you have these symptoms?'”

Let’s Talk Menopause offers resources to women going through menopause, but they also want to reach younger women to educate and prepare them before perimenopause hits.

“These are not disgusting words,” Butts said. “Menstruation and menopause are not disgusting things. They should be so much more commonplace for all sexes, genders, and generations.”