Menopausal Hot Flashes, Mood Swings -History or Hysteria? - Ellen Dolgen

Menopausal Hot Flashes, Mood Swings -History or Hysteria?

References to menopause in history date back to the ancient Greeks and beyond. Aristotle supposedly referred to menopause, saying it began at 40 years of age.

The term “menopause” (la ménépausie) was actually coined in 1821 by French physician Charles Pierre Louis De Gardanne. Personally, I think they should’ve asked a woman to name it. After all, we’re known to call it MANY different things (none of which I can print here).

Cultural mores surrounding the menstrual cycle have changed over the ages, impacting how women have dealt with menstruation and menopause. Societal reaction to women’s menses dates back to biblical times. Anita Diamant, author of the bestselling novel The Red Tent, said in an interview with Ms. Magazine that menstrual tents and huts were all over the world in various pre-modern societies. However, the specific reference to a “red tent” was one that she created for her book.

Many major religions of the world have placed restrictions on menstruating women. This has led to prohibitions on physical intimacy, cooking (now that’s a prohibition I can live with!), attending places of worship, and even requiring women to live separately from men during their cycles (probably for the men’s safety and sanity!). In some religions, menstruating women are considered “impure.” They are even required to immerse themselves in the waters of a ritual bath following their menstrual periods or after childbirth in order to become pure and permitted to resume sexual activity.  Others think menstruating women are thought to lose qi or chi (life force).

Even the symptoms of menopause differ throughout the world. In the West, for example, menopause is often marked by hot flashes. In Japan, it’s shoulder pain and in India it’s low vision. I’m thinking I’d rather have a cold shoulder than a hot flash!

How did women cope with menopausal symptoms in years past?

According to the American Cancer Society, “cohosh” is a Native American word that means “knobby rough roots,” which describes the appearance of the plant’s roots. Native Americans used black cohosh to treat uterine disorders such as menstrual and menopausal symptoms. Today, women still use black cohosh as a natural treatment for menopausal symptoms.

According to NAMS (North American Menopause Society), evidence about the effectiveness and safety of black cohosh for treatment of hot flashes is mixed: some studies show improvement of menopause symptoms and some show no benefit. Other Native American herbal treatments for menopause-related symptoms included alfalfa, chasteberry, dong quia, maca, oak, sage, red clover, star anise and sweetgrass.

In an excerpt from Hot Flushes, Cold Science: A History Of The Modern Menopause, author Louise Foxcroft notes that the term “hysteria” was often used by doctors in describing their menopausal patients. (Where ever would they get that idea??)

The book gives accounts from the mid-1800s in England of doctors prescribing a pre-meal mixture of carbonated soda. Other remedies included a large belladonna plaster placed at the pit of the stomach and vaginal injections with a solution of acetate of lead. Prescriptions ranged from opium and hydochlorate of morphine to chloric ether and distilled water. No wonder women were reduced to hysteria.

Before 1880, treatments for menopausal symptoms primarily consisted of herbals, along with a selection of belladonna, cannabis or opium. In the 1890s Merck offered these chemicals along with the flavored powder Ovariin for the treatment of menopausal symptoms and other ovarian ills. Ovariin was made by dessicating and pulverizing cow ovaries, and may have been the first substance commercially available for treatment of menopausal symptoms that was derived from animal sources. Testicular juice also was used as a treatment. Oh yum!

In the 1930s, menopause was described as a deficiency disease. Emminen (not to be confused with the modern-day rapper) became commercially available in 1933. Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was first marketed in 1939 as a far more potent estrogen than Emminen. In 1942, Ayerst Laboratories began marketing Premarin, which would eventually become the most popular form of estrogen replacement therapy in the U.S., and Prempro, a combination of Premarin and Provera, which eventually became the most widely dispensed drug in the U.S.

Today, treatment of menopausal symptoms is, thank goodness, considerably more sophisticated than the remedies of yesteryear. The North American Menopause Society published its first comprehensive evidence-based recommendations for clinicians, published in the October 2014 issue of Menopause. 

You could say “We’ve come a long way, baby” in terms of how we treat menopausal symptoms. We now have different forms of HRT and many non-hormonal options to explore. However, we still need to help educate women on their options so that they can base their healthcare on facts instead of fear. More studies, please! While you’re at it, could you pass the opium?

Let’s see what advancements this new year brings.

Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN! 


17 thoughts on “Menopausal Hot Flashes, Mood Swings -History or Hysteria?”

  1. I had read that the symptoms vary by culture, which I thought was fascinating. It also stated that views and support of women during menopause are handled differently in these cultures as well, some offering more support from spouses, family and friends than others and also viewing aging as a time to celebrate as opposed to the West where youth is more valued. I have the hot flashes and other physical symptoms, and I take an herbal supplement, not entirely sure if it helps, but I don’t want my symptoms to be any worse than they are so I keep taking them. 🙂 What I have the most trouble with are the emotions, an example would be music. I have always loved music and it has always reminded me of times, places and people, but now it comes with intense emotions that take me back to the time or person and it can be overwhelming. I have to turn the music off, or run out of the store so that I don’t break out in tears in public. And, that is just one example, it’s crazy! My husband has been a huge support, and I know that I can be frustrating. That to me is the best medicine I could receive, and I will always be grateful for how sensitive he’s being about this, I can’t say enough. He wrote this about me, well the situation… I just hope this all passes as my hormones regulate.

    1. Debbie, I read your husband’s blog. How lucky that you have such a loving, supportive mate in your life.
      I am so sorry you are going through so much! You do not need to suffer like this. You definitely need a good menopause specialist! Check out this Dear Ellen for some helpful tips. Also, be sure to download my free Menopause Symptoms Chart. Start charting your symptoms for at least two weeks before you go in for your appointment. There is help for all of these symptoms! You do not need to suffer! My motto is: Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!

      1. Thanks so much Ellen! I never thought about charting my symptoms; what a great idea! I have been reading on your site, so much helpful information. I will be doing a bit of reading today. Thanks again!

    2. Hi Debbie. I really appreciate your post. You have been blessed with a wonderful and supportive husband!!! I too join the ranks of our sisters of the menopause age. I’m taking herbal supplements and vitamins.. Its a whole lot better than it was. I do notice though if my stress level goes up a bit my emotional symptoms resurface. My husband is not one that understand s at all. I think that adds to the stress so I tend to stay away n I feel better. I have adjusted my thinking on menapause being a dreadful thing and look at it now as temporary life change… Even though I don’t have the support of my husband, I know I can count on God to see me through!!!! Love and support to you!!!!

      1. Debra, thanks for sharing your journey. There are many options available now to relieve menopausal symptoms. A well educated menopause specialist can help you with your journey and explain the options that are available for your specific symptoms. Good Luck!

      2. Thank you so much for sharing, Debra! It does help to know that we’re not alone and that others are on the same journey. I also try to keep the focus that this is temporary and things will regulate, it does help to keep that in perspective. I know it must be challenging for husbands to understand what is happening with their wives and to know how to respond. At first, my husband wasn’t aware of what was going on and it created a bit of stress here, which like you mentioned made my emotions even worse. I’m grateful that he decided to look into it, and like I tell him, I so appreciate him letting me vent things out, or simply turn off the radio when I can’t take a song, which must seem silly to him. I keep telling myself to take a day at a time and make positive steps, but it can be hard. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, it really means a lot!! G-d bless!

    3. Hi Debbi, I hope you are doing well… You are so right, menopause is viewed different in different cultures. I am African American and I think for a lot of us, we have always believed we didn’t have some of the emotional symptoms as others. I have done research too and found that to be a very false belief. I never heard my mother ever state anything about menopause, so I thought I would just fly right by… I was wrong.. I am glad though I have found Ellen and her wonderful blog for all of us with this temporary change of life event… I also read recently that if we have lived a stress filled life as well as emotional, it will play a major part in our menopause journey.. Ellen is right though, education is the key… Thank God for all of you….
      My love and support to all… Happy Holiday!!!

      1. Hi Debbie 🙂 still waiting for it to be legal in las vegas.
        Also Debbie, what Ellen suggested about getting a good menapause specialist is what helped me:)!
        Wish you all the best~

  2. Ellen It seems I am not alone in appreciating your website. I am post menopausal by about 9 months and thanks to various lifestyle tweaks and bhrt 2014 was a whole lot better than 2013. For years I had varying symptoms related to perimenopause but nothing compared to the emotional mac truck that hit me a few months after my last period. Like many women I felt like I was one hormonal fluctuation away from going completely nuts. Anxiety and the resulting insomnia were the worst. I found a recommended hormone specialist on your sight as well as lots of good insights. I too am from Colorado and it really is no joke that a little cannibis can be a whole lot better than any amount of rx
    anti anxiety or sleeping meds for insomnia! Thanks for all your help, Happy Holidays!

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