Dr. Sharolyn Dihigo, DNP, RN, CPNP // Mar 07, 2018

In honor of Women’s History Month, our March newsletter is focusing on the historical perspective of menopause.  Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher first mentioned this gestalt of symptoms affecting women, but the term, menopause, came from a French physician in 1921. During that early 1800s and 1900s, this unexplained “deficiency” an array of symptoms seemed to begin when women reached 40 years of age. It is important to note the average lifespan of women at that time was age 56. Nowadays, women live one-third of their lives after menopause; therefore, more attention and concern is given to the health issues that affect women during the latter years of their lives. 

As you might suspect, there is not a lot available in the literature regarding menopause from the early 1800 and 1900s mostly because it was a taboo subject that was not to be discussed.  If it was discussed at all, the information was shared very privately between two women and never spoken of outside of the home.  It also was not acceptable for women to complain to their spouses about their symptoms.  Many women believed or were led to believe life was over shortly after menopause (again the life expectancy was the mid-50s.)

If this does not sound harsh enough, it gets worse!  The onset of the menstrual cycle, which began about age 13-14 years, was a sign of uncleanliness, and often women were banned from public places or religious events during this of the month.  The woman was only valued during her childbearing years, and after she had served her husband and had children; the “usefulness of a women” ended when her fertility ended (menopause).

By the turn of the century, the first hormone had been discovered, and soon early scientists were able to identify the differences in estrogen and progesterone.  An early midwife discovered she could ‘cure’ her hot flashes by taking the liquid version of pig’s ovaries and hormone replacement began to take hold.  Over the next few decades, more discoveries led to a better understanding of women’s health, the women’s intricate balance of hormones, and the medical discoveries we have today.

While the science began to advance, unfortunately, social attitudes have not. Women with menopause still suffer.  Often, the subject is still too taboo to discuss.  Why do women continue to live in the shackles of yesteryear? Is menopause the end of your life, or just the beginning of a wonderful new journey?

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