A Woman’s Guide to Menopause

Everyone has heard about hot flashes and night sweats, but there’s more to menopause than that. Technically, a woman is said to be menopausal after she hasn’t had a period for a year. However, physical changes in various areas can come several years beforehand, in a time commonly called perimenopause. Read on to learn about this important milestone in a woman’s life.

Ages and Stages

The average age of a menopausal woman is 51, with the change occurring spontaneously at any time between ages 40 and 58. If a woman experiences menopausal symptoms before she turns 40, it is considered premature. Some women experience the change early as a result of surgical procedures for conditions like endometriosis or ovarian cancer.

Menopausal Signs

Where this change is concerned, every woman has a unique experience. Some women go through a range of symptoms, while others have few or none at all. Most symptoms are caused by changing levels of progesterone and estrogen, which are female hormones manufactured in the ovaries. Menopausal signs may include a changing pattern in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Periods may be shorter, longer, lighter or heavier, and the time between them may be shorter or longer. Night sweats and hot flashes are common, as are mood swings, sleep problems, forgetfulness, urinary issues, joint pain, bone loss, skin dryness and sexual dysfunction.

Treating the Symptoms

If the symptoms of the change of life become hard for a patient to manage on her own, it’s important to talk to a doctor about treatment choices. Some doctors prescribe birth control pills during perimenopause to regulate heavy or unpredictable periods, or to lessen the severity of hot flashes. Other potentially helpful medicines include blood pressure, epilepsy and depression medications. Some antidepressants have been shown to substantially lessen the severity of hot flashes. Women can make certain lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, dressing in layers, stopping smoking, exercising and avoiding alcohol, stress and other triggers.

Sleep Issues

Many menopausal women have trouble sleeping, and these issues can be improved by keeping a strict routine and by using certain sleep aids. Exercise is a known mood booster, and it can improve a woman’s sleep patterns as well. Avoiding carbonated drinks and caffeine can assist in bladder function, and lubricants or moisturizers can ease vaginal dryness and make intercourse more comfortable. Prescription estrogen tablets or creams can help women maintain the natural moisture in the tissues of the entire intimate area.

Natural Remedies

Phytoestrogens are compounds found in certain legumes, vegetables and herbs, and they are often used to alleviate menopausal symptoms. Research on these plant compounds is still being done, and it aims to find out whether the substances are really effective and whether there are health risks associated with taking them as supplements. If a woman goes this route, she should be sure to tell her doctor about the supplements to avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions.

Hormone Therapy

The most controversial treatment option is hormone therapy. Previously referred to as HRT or hormone replacement therapy, this treatment method involves taking progesterone and/or estrogen to prevent bone loss and lessen menopausal symptoms. However, this therapy does have some risks, including a greater risk of stroke, heart disease and breast cancer. Women should discuss the benefits and risks of hormone therapy with a doctor. When a woman opts for this type of therapy, she should take the smallest possible dose for the shortest length of time.

While some menopausal symptoms can be downright unpleasant for middle aged women, they will eventually pass. Just like puberty, this is simply another part of life with new challenges, changes and rewards.

For treatment of any of the above menopausal symptoms, contact Dr Mary Parker at http://www.gen-obgyn.com in the Grapevine/Bedford, mid-cities area.