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Former first lady Michelle Obama has opened up about going through menopause. Credit: NAACP via Getty Images
  • Michelle Obama has opened up about going through menopause.
  • The former first lady said she experienced hot flashes and weight gain.
  • Obama said hormone replacement therapy helped her deal with her symptoms.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama opened up last week about her experiences with menopause.

Obama, 58, says she started experiencing hot flashes and weight gain during menopause, which marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle that typically occurs between ages 45 to 55.

She has also used hormone replacement therapy to help with the hot flashes she experienced due to menopause, Obama recently shared in The Michelle Obama Podcast.

Hormone replacement therapy, which helps restore hormone levels in the body, is effective at treating menopause symptoms and can significantly improve women’s quality of life.

Obama hopes that by sharing her experiences about menopause and hormone replacement therapy, she can spread awareness and encourage more people to talk about menopause.

“There is not a lot of conversation about menopause. I’m going through it, and I know all of my friends are going through it. And the information is sparse,” Obama told PEOPLE.

During menopause, or the natural cessation of the menstrual cycle, the body ramps down the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

The decline in these hormones is what causes symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, reduced sex drive, cognitive issues, and problems sleeping.

The dip in estrogen can slow down metabolism and impact energy levels, which can lead to weight gain, according to Dr. Bruce Dorr, an OB/GYN, a fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Senior Medical Advisor for Biote.

The hormonal changes can also contribute to other health conditions such as heart disease, dementia, osteoporosis, or certain cancers, says Dorr.

While the symptoms vary from person to person, around 75% of women report some type of symptom during menopause and about 25% of people experience menopause symptoms that significantly impact their quality of life.

“During this time there are hormonal, physical, and psychological changes happening that are completely disruptive to your life, often needing medical attention,” Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB/GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, told Healthline.

Despite the fact that menopause affects 50% of the population, there continues to be a strong stigma attached to the condition.

This stigma, along with the embarrassment and misconceptions people harbor about menopause, has caused millions of people to suffer quietly and not get the care they need.

“Brain fog, memory loss, and irritability can lead to work performance disruption—some women will leave or lose their jobs because of the mental issues,” says Dorr.

Hormone replacement therapy essentially replaces the estrogen —and in some cases progesterone — that the body stops producing after menopause and improves many menopause-related symptoms.

Hormone replacement therapy can be administered in many ways, including pills, injections, skin patches, and creams.

“Hormones are not the magical ‘fountain of youth,’ but they can restore your hormones to an optimal level, which helps protect the brain, heart, and bones,” says Dorr.

Hormone replacement therapy has been controversial because a 2002 study from the Women’s Health Initiative found that it was more harmful than helpful and potentially caused breast cancer.

“Even though the research was wrong, and the WHI has corrected and reversed the findings of its study, the misconceptions unfortunately still exist,” says Dr. Michael Green, an OB/GYN at Winona, a female-founded wellness center.

Evidence has since shown that only certain types of hormone replacement may increase the risk of breast cancer and the risk often depends on the type, the dose, the patient’s age, and how long the patient takes the medication.

Despite the fact that recent research has shown that hormone replacement therapy can be very beneficial — not only for menopause symptoms but for the cardiovascular system as well — the concerns over hormone replacement therapy persist, causing many women to forgo the treatment.

“If you deliver the correct hormones in the correct way, they are not only safe but show evidence of preventing a wide range of conditions including cardiovascular events, bone loss, and cognitive decline,” Dorr said.

According to Green, it takes the body some time to adjust to hormone therapy, and some people may experience side effects as they get used to it.

“Some side effects may include weight gain, acne, fatigue, mood swings, headaches, bloating, cramping, or even spotting. However, these side effects often subside after the body has had time to adjust,” Green said.

When it comes to hormone replacement therapy, doctors recommend that people work with their doctors to develop an individualized treatment plan.

Dose, type, and duration of treatment should be customized to each patient’s personal risk factors, according to Ross.

“Treating the symptoms of menopause is individualized and often based on personal philosophies for the various treatment options,” says Ross.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama opened up about her experiences with menopause and hormone replacement therapy. Obama hopes that her stories can spread awareness about menopause and the symptoms it’s associated with to encourage more women to get the care they need.