A pause for thought

Updated: Mar 15, 2022 China Daily Print
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Chen Rong, a well-known gynecologist at Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing, offers Chinese women tips on how to age comfortably and gracefully in her new book, Better Menopause.[Photo provided to China Daily]

A gynecologist has written a guidebook on an emerging reproductive health issue, Quan Xiaoshu reports.

Over the past 20 years, Chen Rong, a well-known gynecologist at Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing, has been helping women with menopausal symptoms to manage the phase comfortably.

Women usually pass through menopause around, or after, the age of 50, a natural event that is regarded as a difficult time. But Chen tells her patients that it is also a friendly warning, a reminder to take better care of themselves.

"It's not just a period of 'physical turbulence', but also an opportunity for women that can't be ignored," Chen writes in her new book, Better Menopause, co-authored with popular-science writer Xu Xiuhua and published in January.

Chen has offered consultations to countless patients at her clinic, and has always made a point of telling them to consider their lives beyond menopause.

"They may suffer from menstrual disorders, infertility or menopausal diseases, which are closely related to their life experiences, family relations and knowledge of health. In treating menopausal discomfort, it would be complicated to start with the symptoms, but if we focus on the people, it is easier for us to grasp and solve the major issues," Chen says.

In her teenage years, Chen was inspired by the biography of Lin Qiaozhi, who is considered the pioneer of obstetrics and gynecology in China. Having decided to become a doctor, Chen gained admission to Peking Union Medical College in 1989.

After graduation, she chose to specialize in gynecological oncology, but facing death again and again caused her a lot of sadness. Seeking to balance reason and emotion, in 2003, Chen transferred to gynecological endocrinology, a field that she found promising.

"Great progress has been made in the diagnosis and treatment of menopausal diseases, but there is still a lot of misunderstanding among members of the public. We can fill this gap and build a bridge," Chen says.

During menopause, due to the decline of estrogen, women may suffer from various symptoms, such as palpitations, hot flushes, emotional irritability and memory loss, as well as muscle and joint pain. Such symptoms may be accompanied by organ diseases.

"Some women blindly endure these symptoms," says Chen. "There are also misunderstandings about and prejudices against menopausal women in society."

She says many complain about women's mood swings during this period without caring about the reasons behind them. To help with the physical and social difficulties brought on by menopause, Chen has spent much of her spare time on providing popular-science education.

"More women have gained an understanding of menopause through my books and videos. For example, they may keep a detailed menstrual record before visiting a doctor, which can make diagnosis easier," Chen says.

In 2015, the average life expectancy of Chinese women was 79.4 years, 42.7 years higher than when the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. As Chen notes, medical progress is inseparable from social development.

"The middle-aged and elderly stages account for an increasing proportion of women's lives, and their health at this stage is largely dependent on whether they can get through menopause smoothly," she says.

Chen has witnessed positive changes in the women who enter her consulting room. Compared with 20 years ago, they now talk about their confusion and symptoms more directly. Even some women in their early 40s go to her just for consultation, so they can prepare better for their later years. Menopausal hormone therapy is accepted by almost all her patients for whom it is considered a suitable prescription.

Chen Rong, a well-known gynecologist at Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing, offers Chinese women tips on how to age comfortably and gracefully in her new book, Better Menopause.[Photo provided to China Daily]

"From a gynecologist's viewpoint, in addition to paying attention to malignant tumors and acute infections, women are paying more attention to the quality of life," she says.

Last year, at the age of 50, Chen began to experience some of the more obvious menopausal symptoms herself. Hot flushes were no longer just a medical term to her, but a real sensation, like being roasted by a fire. She began to write Better Menopause as a gift to herself and other Chinese women.

"In the first half of our life, society expects us to be good daughters, wives, mothers and employees. During menopause, however, our children may have grown up and we may have achieved various things in our career. We should really think about what we value most, what we want to do most, and how to be a better version of ourselves," she says.

In her book, she recommends that women facing menopause should cultivate some interests, such as calligraphy, music, dance, embroidery or designing clothes and jewelry.

In the process of writing the book, Chen says she saw Chinese astronauts going on missions aboard the Shenzhou spacecraft and noted that they were aged between 40 and 60.

"If astronauts can fly in space at such ages," she says, "why should we limit ourselves?"

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