TULSA, Okla. — Menopause is a medical condition most women deal with, and it can last for years, even decades. Many women struggle in silence while they deal with the fear and embarrassment. Sometimes, women can face discrimination in the workplace.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 44 percent of working women are at least 45 years old. A lot of women are holding down their jobs while dealing with menopause. That’s why lawmakers introduced a bill asking for money for research.
FOX23 Investigative Reporter Janna Clark examined the details of a new push for more research into menopause and more benefits to cover the condition in the workplace.
“My whole body turned bright red, and I would sweat when I have severe hot flashes,” said local attorney Heidi Faenz. “I sweat from my shins, and who sweats from their shins?”
Faenz told FOX23 that she meets with a Family Nurse Practitioner, Linda McIver, who is helping her manage the symptoms of menopause. They first started working together seven years ago.
Faenz and McIver told FOX23 that menopause isn’t just dealing with hot flashes and night sweats. Doctors said symptoms can come on suddenly and vary, including sleep disruptions.
“It completely wakes me up throughout the night,” Faenz said.
Dr. Tia Guster, a specialist with Piedmont Healthcare Obstetrics & Gynecology, told FOX23 that other common symptoms are brain fog, depression, fatigue and rage.
“Where you just absolutely lose your patience for kind of any of the slightest thing,” Dr. Guster said.
Healthcare providers indicated menopause has real symptoms, but it’s rarely talked about, much less studied.
“My mother never talked to me about menopause,” Faenz said. “My sisters didn’t talk to me about it, and nobody talked about it.”
Dr. Guster said, “I think it is because there are a lot of stigmas attached to you going through menopause.”
But now, with so many women older than 45 in the workforce, more women are talking about it. And 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,” Dr. Guster told FOX23.
The U.K. 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 one in 10 women with menopausal symptoms quit their jobs.
“They’re recognizing it as a medical condition,” said McIver. “They’re providing time off. They’re providing time for women to go visit their healthcare provider.”
The British government set up a Menopause Task Force. Some companies are now adding new policies, including up to 10 days off a year to address it.
But in the U.S., most companies offer no medical benefits for a condition that often requires treatment.
“It’s a diagnosis,” McIver said. “It’s just like other conditions that we diagnose and treat.”
Faenz said, “It’s something that employers should recognize and accommodate those women to keep them in the workforce.”
Beyond medical benefits, Dr. 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,” Dr. Guster said.
“I have had people who literally go stand over the air conditioning vent for a minute or two just to get that cold air,” Faenz said. “And to try to shorten the amount of time that you’re affected.”
Faenza said she’s lucky because she can take a break at work when she needs it, but she knows that is 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,” she said. “Another very likely could lose their livelihood if they asked for any sort of flexibility.”
Healthcare producers encourage women to talk to their employers and ask for flexibility if possible. An example would be to ask to come in later if you didn’t sleep well due to menopause. The Menopause Research Act was sent to committee after being introduced in September, but there has been no action since then.
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