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Here's What to Do If Menopause Gaslighting Comes for You

‘You eat too much’ and ‘you’ve got herpes’ are ways ill-informed doctors have misdiagnosed Black women's symptoms. Plus: 5 ways to access better care.

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illustration of black woman looking worried standing in front of doctor silhouette
Michelle Pereira
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Do you feel that your doctor understands your symptoms and is knowledgeable about perimenopause and menopause? Have you found remedies that work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

After chemotherapy for breast cancer, Marcia Clarke, 47, gained 20 pounds in three months. When the doctors told her she was overeating, Clarke argued, "Eating too much? I'm on chemotherapy, so I'm eating less than before. By the time she finished the treatments, she'd gained another 30 pounds.

Over the next four years, Clarke suffered from heart palpitations, high cholesterol, joint pain, inflammation, insomnia, fatigue, and mood swings. She went from doctor to doctor, including a cardiologist and rheumatologist, searching for answers. They blamed her symptoms on overeating, pulmonary embolism, anxiety, and 'just' getting old.

The Georgia-based pediatric nurse knew it was none of those and sought answers for herself. She learned all the symptoms were menopause-related side-effects brought on by the chemotherapy medicines, which can affect the ovaries in many ways.

"I knew about hot flashes, but I didn't know the role estrogen played as the gatekeeper to so many interactions within our body," said Clarke. "Losing it the way I did gave me a violent shove into menopause,"

And, while chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer treatment are known to bring on menopause suddenly, Clarke felt gaslighted by her providers.

"When I outright asked the oncologist if I was going to go into menopause. She acted like I was crazy for asking."

Misdiagnosis or Mistreatment?

Black women, according to Healthline, face more discrimination, racism, and mistreatment than white women and are more often misdiagnosed or left untreated. Furthermore, misdiagnosis during the stages of menopause is not uncommon.

"According to some studies, about 29% of women aged 45-54 are misdiagnosed with other health issues, including STDs," said Jyoti Kinghorn, PhD, researcher in molecular biology.

Even those with privileged access to health care and health information still need help getting answers and navigating health care. Halle Berry is among them.

"I have this great sex; I wake up in the morning, I go to the bathroom, and guess what? I feel like I have razor blades in my vagina," said Berry in a recent article. Her gynecologist's (mis)diagnosis? The worst case of herpes he'd ever seen.

Oprah fared no better. She took heart medication and wore a heart monitor. Five doctors missed her first menopausal symptom, heart palpitations.

"What are they doing to lay women who don't know?" said Clarke. "It felt invalidating and dismissive because I know my body. I knew it wasn't just a consequence of age because there are plenty of thriving 40- and 50-year-olds, and I was one of them."

5 ways to access better care

So, what's the average woman supposed to do? Follow these helpful tips, some of which made all the difference in the world for Clarke.

Research your symptoms

Experts agree that a lot of providers don't know and understand Black women's health issues due to personal and systemic biases, lack of representation, and lack of training.

"Even if your provider did not properly educate you, educate yourself about your health needs, medical conditions, and treatment options," said Dr. West, an international psychologist and founder of Out of the Box Counseling, Coaching, and Consulting.

Start by taking this quiz to separate facts from falsehoods. Then, delve deeper into the facts with AARP health and healthcare research, trends, and tips.

“Other reputable sources of information include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus, WebMD, and Healthline,” said West.

Get familiar with the lesser-known complaints of menopausal-age women

There's much confusion about the stages of menopause. For the record, menopause is the destination. You reach menopause after 12 consecutive months with no period. Perimenopause means "around menopause," indicating your body is on the journey to it. It can start as early as your 30s and last a decade. It's important to discuss things that you may be experiencing. Some of the lesser-known symptoms are:

  • Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Blood sugar fluctuations
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Mouth conditions like burning tongue syndrome and oral thrush
  • Brain fog
  • Tinnitus (ringing in your ears)
  • Rage
  • Change in bowel habits or rectal bleeding
  • Thoughts of suicide

Compare notes with girlfriends

Don't go through this alone. Talk about it with people you trust.
Michelle Obama and her sister circle rely on each other for menopause moral support and information because both are sparse.

"You can also find online and local support groups where you can share experiences and get advice from other Black women navigating similar challenges," said Dr. Pobee.

Once you're in the position, help others advocate by sharing your knowledge and experiences.

Consider adding a menopause specialist to your care team

There's not enough menopause education in U.S. obstetrics and gynecology training programs.

In a recent study to assess menopause education, 92% of the OB-GYN program directors agreed that a standardized curriculum could be developed, yet only 31% had one. Only 29% reported that trainees had dedicated time in a menopause clinic, and nearly all of them said they needed more educational resources.

The North American Menopause Society has stepped up to improve this. It established a Certified Menopause Practitioner credential to help women navigate the stages of menopause. Any licensed medical provider can take the exam. The credential is valid for three years and is renewable after a new exam or continuing medical education credits. Find a menopause specialist to add to your healthcare team.

Open a dialog about hormone therapy with your provider

As Clarke found out, the loss of estrogen can wreak havoc on your body. Some of us can find relief in hormone replacement therapy to restore the estrogen levels and treat the common symptoms. High-dose options include pills, patches, gels, and creams. Low-dose vaginal formulas treat vaginal and urinary symptoms.

But there are so many variables to consider, like health history, age at onset, age at the beginning of therapy, and types of treatment, so do your research and open a dialogue with your provider to ensure you understand the benefits and risks. Non-hormone medications and lifestyle approaches may also work better for your unique situation.


Do you feel that your doctor understands your symptoms and is knowledgeable about perimenopause and menopause? Have you found remedies that work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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