Coping With Hot Flashes and Other Menopausal Symptoms: What 15 Celebrities Said
In an industry in which a woman’s age can be a liability, a growing number of public figures are speaking out about the realities of what we once called “the change of life.”
By Cathy Garrard Medically Reviewed by Kacy Church, MD
September 28, 2022
Angelina Jolie, Michelle Obama, and Salma Hayek have been open about their experiences with menopausal symptoms.
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Menopause happens to every woman as she grows older — that time of her life after her monthly periods stop coming, and she’s no longer able to get pregnant . The years that lead up to the end of fertility are known as perimenopause ; it can last up to a decade and generally takes place in the forties and early fifties. Perimenopause can be a hormonal road every bit as rocky as puberty, with fluctuations of estrogen and other hormone levels triggering many menopausal symptoms . Mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, and difficulty sleeping can have a significant impact on quality of life.
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Although celebrities have long been rumored to fib about how old they are, these 15 women are coming forward to own and share their personal experiences with midlife. Some speak out about their challenges, and others share how they’ve come to embrace it.
The multihyphenate media trailblazer penned an essay for her own magazine to share how doctors mistook her perimenopausal symptoms for heart disease. “For two years I didn’t sleep well. Never a full night. No peace,” she wrote. “Restlessness and heart palpitations were my steady companions at nightfall. … I went to see a cardiologist . Took medication. Wore a heart monitor for weeks. And then one day, walking through the offices of The Oprah Winfrey Show, I picked up a copy of The Wisdom of Menopause , Dr. Christiane Northrup’s book, and the pages fell open to the heading Palpitations: Your Heart’s Wake-Up Call. I took it as a sign.”
She learned that those palpitations were common for women her age, writing “but no one, including my trusted doctors, had warned me, and when my symptoms showed up, we looked for the most dire explanation — heart disease — instead of the most likely.”
So she took to her soundstage and aired multiple shows about it, because no one else was talking about any of it at the time. “Until that point in my adult life, I don’t recall one serious conversation with another woman about what to expect,” she wrote.
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Naomi Watts used her influence on Instagram to pose an important question: “Does the word 'menopause' freak you out?” She admitted that it absolutely did for her, and she’s starting to wrap her head around it. “It's just a natural phase of life and something half the population will be directly affected by and the other half will feel indirectly,” she wrote.
The actor dealt with menopausal symptoms at a younger age than many women. “When I was in my late 30s, I was finally ready to start thinking about creating a family. Then the M word swiftly blew my doors down,” she wrote. “It felt like a head-on collision with a Mack truck.” And she didn’t feel like she had anyone she could turn to.
“My mentors and mum didn't seem up for discussing it, [and] I didn't know how to ask for help,” wrote Watts. “Even doctors had little to say. It's oddly like an unwritten code of silence: Women should suck it up and cope, because that's how generations passed have done it.”
But Watts is committed to opening up the dialogue: “Let's conquer the stigma and address the secrecy and shame we've felt and help create a healthier foundation for future generations.”
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When the Frieda actor first noticed signs of menopause , she was shocked when her doctor started ticking off the list of potential symptoms.
“The questions were terrifying,” she said on Red Table Talk . “They were asking me things like, 'Are your ears growing and there's hair growing out of them? Are you growing a mustache and a beard? Are you easily irritable? Are you crying for no reason? Are you gaining a lot of weight really fast that doesn't go away no matter what you do? Are you shrinking?' And then they ask you, 'Is your vagina dry?'”
But what caught her most off guard was this: Her breasts would get larger. She explained, “For some women when you gain weight, your boobs grow; and other women when you have children and you breastfeed, your boobs grow and they don't go back down; and then in some of the cases when you are in menopause, they grow again. And I just happen to be one of those women where it happened in every single step!”
Just like with many things that have happened in her life, the EGOT winner took to the stage to crack jokes about how dismissive our society can be about menopause — particularly the sudden, uncontrollable body temperature changes. She asked, “How can you keep a man [erect] for 19 hours and not be able to cool down a hot flash? How is that possible?”
Taraji P. Henson
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The Empire star and Oscar nominee shared in an interview with Self that therapy has helped her navigate stardom, the pressure to be a “strong Black woman,” and the mood swings caused by perimenopause. “I was just starting to feel heavy a lot, [like] suffocating. … It just came out of nowhere,” she said.
In response to these challenges, she became a role model for Black mental wellness and celebrates the milestones that come with age. For her 50th birthday, she posted stunning bikini photos while she celebrated with friends. “It’s supposed to be over for me … but here I am,” she said to W magazine .
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In 2014, Kim Catrall of Sex and the City partnered with Pfizer , a pharmaceutical company that makes prescription menopause treatments, to raise awareness about the life change that happens to an estimated 2 million American women every year. As an entertainer, she had to pretend she had hot flashes on screen before she ever dealt with them in real life, and she thought that experience prepared her for menopause. But her reality was different than what she expected. “I realized I still had questions. But the more I learned and listened to what my body was telling me, the more I relaxed, adjusted, and realized I could manage this by working closely with my doctor,” Cattrall said in a press release.
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Sometimes the menopausal symptoms aren’t even the root of the health problem. The former talk show host first took a hiatus from her self-titled show in early 2018 to battle the thyroid problems she developed from the Graves' disease she was battling during her menopause journey. Speaking to People magazine , she said that she was diagnosed with Graves' disease nearly 20 years ago, but neglecting a routine endocrinology appointment created a hormone imbalance that was causing high blood pressure and mood swings.
She went on to say, “With the menopause, I wasn’t pointing a finger to any particular thing. I was just feeling like ‘All right … this is I guess how it’s supposed to be.’ I feel 100 percent better than I was a few months ago. I had a storm going in my body is the best way I can explain it,” she said at the time.
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Emmy-nominated comic actor Cheryl Hines has definitely not been curbing her enthusiasm for starting a conversation about painful sex after menopause, often due to vaginal dryness and lack of estrogen . As the paid spokeswomen for Painfully Awkward Conversations, a campaign sponsored by the makers of medicine for sexual function and menopause-related issues, she urged women to address the issue with their healthcare providers — because there is treatment — and to talk to other women for support.
“I know a lot of women, a lot of friends, who are experiencing painful sex after menopause, and I want them to be empowered to be able to talk about it with their friends and their healthcare providers,” she told People magazine. “I’m glad I can get that conversation started and let everyone know that there’s no stigma to it.”
Additional reporting by Beth Levine and Brianna Majsiak.
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