ATLANTA — It’s a medical condition most women deal with, and it can last for years, even decades.
Many women struggle in silence, fearing embarrassment — or even worse, discrimination. Now, there is a new push for more research and benefits at work for menopause.
Women make up about half of the workforce. U.S. Labor statistics show nearly 44% of working women are 45 and up. So, a lot of women are holding down jobs while dealing with menopause.
“My whole body turned bright red, and I would sweat when I have severe hot flashes. I sweat from my shins and who sweats from their shins?” said attorney Heidi Faenza.
She meets with family nurse practitioner Linda McIver to help manage the symptoms of menopause which started seven years ago.
It’s not just hot flashes and night sweats. Doctors say symptoms can come on suddenly and vary, including sleep disruptions.
“It completely wakes me up throughout the night,” Faenza said.
Brain fog, insomnia, fatigue, depression and rage are also common.
“Where you just absolutely lose your patience for kind of the slightest thing,” said Dr. Tia Guster, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist at Piedmont Healthcare.
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Health care providers say menopause has real symptoms. But it’s rarely talked about and much less studied.
“My mother never talked to me about menopause. My sisters didn’t talk to me about it, and nobody talked about it,” Faenza said.
“I think it is because there are a lot of stigmas attached to you going through menopause,” Guster said.
But now, with so many women over 45 making up the workforce, more women are talking about it.
Congress is paying attention.
The Menopause Research Act would invest $100 million in 2023 and again in 2024 to research treatments through the National Institutes of Health.
“I definitely think more money should be put into research,” Guster said.
The United Kingdom is already making concessions for women at work to keep them from quitting.
A landmark study by The Fawcett Society, a women’s rights charity, found 1 in 10 women with menopausal symptoms quit their jobs.
“They’re recognizing it as a medical condition. They’re providing time off. They’re providing time for women to go visit their healthcare provider,” McIver said.
The British government set up a menopause task force. To address the matter, some companies are adding new policies, including up to 10 days off a year.
But here in the U.S., most companies offer no medical benefits for a condition that often requires treatment.
“It’s a diagnosis. It’s just like other conditions that we diagnose and treat,” McIver said.
“It’s something that employers should recognize… and accommodate those women to keep them in the workforce,” Faenza said.
Beyond medical benefits, Guster said changes at work like a fan at your desk, the option to work from home, or even a safe space would help.
“I think it’d be nice if they actually had maybe like a menopause room, a little bit of a chill, serenity space,” Guster said.
“I have had people who they literally go stand over an air conditioning vent for a minute or two just to get that cold air and try to shorten the amount of time that you’re affected,” Faenza said.
She is lucky. Faenza can take a break at work when she needs it. But she knows that’s not the case for many others who suffer in silence.
“But there’s a large section of our society that isn’t in a position to ask for that kind of accommodation. Another very likely could lose their livelihood if they asked for any sort of flexibility,” Faenza said.
If possible, health care providers encourage women to talk to their employers and ask for flexibility. For example, women can ask to come in late if they haven’t slept well.
The Menopause Research Act got sent to committee after being introduced in September. There’s been no action since then. Channel 2 Action News will stay on top of it.
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