Advertisement

Perimenopause vs. UTIs, STIs: How to know your symptoms after Halle Berry opens up about 'razor blade'-like pain

The Oscar-winning actress says she wishes she knew more about what menopause could look like.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

At a recent roundtable discussion highlighting women's health research, actress Halle Berry opened up about a misdiagnosis she received when she was in perimenopause. (Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images) CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JANUARY 11: Halle Berry attends a roundtable discussion highlighting women's health research at University of Illinois on January 11, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images)
At a recent roundtable discussion highlighting women's health research, actress Halle Berry opened up about a misdiagnosis she received when she was in perimenopause. (Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images)

Hollywood star Halle Berry, 54, recently opened up about a startling health misdiagnosis. When she started experiencing unusual symptoms, her OBGYN initially suspected herpes, but it turned out to be signs of perimenopause.

At Monday's A Day of Unreasonable Conversation with U.S. first lady Jill Biden, Berry admitted she thought she would "skip menopause." The Oscar-winning actress, who is recently in a new relationship, 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."

"I was so [uneducated] at that time. I wish I knew then when I know now."Halle Berry, at "A Day of Unreasonable Conversation"

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," Berry said.

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 UTIs and 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 spoke to 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.


Perimenopause vs. UTIs and STIs: How symptoms overlap

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."


Risks of misdiagnosis: What women should know

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.


When should you see a doctor for your symptoms?

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.


How to advocate for yourself

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.


Want to share your story?

Since menopause is top-of-mind for many Yahoo Canada readers, we'd like to hear your story. Do you have unanswered questions about menopause that keep you up at night? Or perhaps you have an experience getting through the life stage you think the world should know? Reach out to yahoo.canada.lifestyle.editors@yahooinc.com to have your story featured in a Yahoo Canada piece.

Let us know what you think by commenting below and tweeting @YahooStyleCA! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.