'I'm in menopause, OK?': Halle Berry calls to end 'shame' of 'very normal' part of life' during impassioned speech. Here's what to know

The 57-year-old actress previously said her doctor mistook her menopause symptoms as herpes.

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Halle Berry speaks in Washington D.C. about women's midlife health.
Halle Berry spoke during news a conference to raise federal research on menopause and women's midlife health. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Halle Berry is standing up to end the stigma around menopause.

On Thursday, the 57-year-old actress joined a group of bipartisan senators outside the U.S. Capitol, sharing her experience with menopause.

"I'm in menopause, OK?" Berry yelled to the crowd. "The shame has to be taken out of menopause. We have to talk about this very normal part of our life that happens. Our doctors can't even say the word to us, let alone walk us through the journey."

The shame has to be taken out of menopause.Halle Berry

Berry's appearance was part of a push for U.S. legislators to put $275 million towards research and education on the hormonal changes that impact women as they age.

Earlier this year, Berry said her OBGYN initially mistook her perimenopause symptoms for herpes.

At the "A Day of Unreasonable Conversation" event with U.S. first lady Jill Biden in March, Berry admitted she thought she would "skip menopause." The Oscar-winning actress said she started having symptoms after sex. "I have this great sex," Berry said, "I wake up in the morning, I go to the bathroom, and guess what? I feel like I have razor blades in my vagina."

The actress said she immediately went to her gynecologist, who then told her she has "the worst case of herpes" they have ever seen. She and her partner both got tested, and didn't have herpes. "I realized, after the fact, that [the sensation] is a symptom of perimenopause."

Couple Van Hunt and Halle Berry recently had a herpes scare, but it turned out to be a misdiagnosis as Berry was actually experiencing symptoms of perimenopause. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images) JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - DECEMBER 07: Van Hunt and Halle Berry attend the red carpet on the closing night of the Red Sea International Film Festival 2023 on December 07, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival)
Couple Van Hunt and Halle Berry recently had a herpes scare, but it turned out to be a misdiagnosis as Berry was actually experiencing symptoms of perimenopause. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)

This incident shed a light on a common issue many women face: confusing perimenopause symptoms with other health conditions like urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). By understanding the common symptoms and how they differ from other conditions, women can seek appropriate care and avoid the pitfalls of misdiagnosis.

Yahoo Canada previously spoke with Dr. Michelle Jacobson, a menopause specialist in Toronto, on how women can distinguish between these overlapping symptoms — and when to see a doctor. Here's what you need to know.

Women can still have regular periods when entering perimenopause, which makes it harder to link their symptoms to hormonal changes, the expert says. (Getty Images) Menstruation. White woman lying on pink background. Female lining with red feather. Women's critical days.
Women can still have regular periods when entering perimenopause, which makes it harder to link their symptoms to hormonal changes, the expert says. (Getty Images)

Perimenopause is a phase that often goes unrecognized because its symptoms can mimic those of other conditions. Jacobson pointed out, "It's usually not very obvious that a patient's symptoms might be because of perimenopause."

Women might still have regular periods, which makes it harder to link their symptoms to hormonal changes.

One key aspect of perimenopause is the genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), which brings a range of symptoms like dryness, abnormal discharge and urinary discomfort. This happens because sex steroid deficiencies, like estrogen and testosterone, impact the tissue of the vulva, the vagina and the lower urinary tract. "It could be dryness, it could be abnormal discharge, it could be burning, itchiness," Jacobson said.

These signs are easily confused with infections, because they can mimic the sensation of a UTI, including bleeding during or after sex, or feeling like you can't empty your bladder. "All of these things happen when you get sex steroid deficiencies, but it's important to be able to recognize it for what it is."

Misdiagnosing perimenopause symptoms as UTIs or STIs is a significant issue. Women may end up receiving unnecessary antibiotics or other treatments that don't address the real problem — hormonal imbalance.

Jacobson emphasized the importance of recognizing GSM symptoms, as they can worsen without proper treatment. "The symptoms of GSM... get worse without [hormone] replacement," she notes, stressing the need for correct diagnosis and management.

Any symptom in the vulva or the vagina... can masquerade as either infectious or inflammatory.

Jacobson said we don't know how many women go misdiagnosed and mistreated in Canada, but it's estimated up to 80 per cent of women will experience some GSM symptoms over time.

If you're unsure whether your symptoms are due to perimenopause or another condition, it's crucial to consult a healthcare provider. Jacobson mentioned the MQ6 assessment tool, a set of questions recommended by the Society of OBGYNs of Canada (SOGC), to help identify menopausal signs.

These key questions include:

  1. Any changes in your period?

  2. Are you having hot flashes?

  3. Any vaginal dryness or pain during intercourse?

  4. Any bladder issues or incontinence?

  5. How is your sleep?

  6. How is your mood?

The expert advised women to seek medical advice rather than self-treating, especially if symptoms persist or worsen. "I think anybody who's got a persistent and worsening problem should be seen by their primary care practitioner," she recommended.

Questions about menopause? Interested to share your experience? Contact us at yahoo.canada.lifestyle.editors@yahooinc.com and you could be featured in an upcoming Yahoo Canada article.

If you suspect your symptoms are not being taken seriously or are being misdiagnosed, Jacobson encouraged self-advocacy. "For a long time, menopause has been not well treated, and physicians have not felt confident in treating menopause. I think, if you feel that you are not being listened to or that your symptoms are being diminished, it's important to advocate for yourself," she assured.

For a long time, menopause has been not well treated.

Jacobson suggested that women request referrals to menopause specialists or seek expertise through relevant organizations, such as the SOGC. Ensuring that your healthcare provider considers perimenopause as a potential diagnosis is essential for receiving the right treatment.

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