Menopausal Health: How to control your symptoms
October is World Menopause Month. In order to spread awareness and keep you informed, D-Cal complied this article on the facts, symptoms, and lifestyle changes that will need to be made during menopause.
WHAT IS MENOPAUSE?
Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. The years leading up to that point, when women experience changes in their monthly cycles, hot flashes, or other symptoms, are called the menopausal transition, or perimenopause.
During the menopausal transition, the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones made by the ovaries, varies greatly. Bones become less dense, making women more vulnerable to fractures. Your body begins to use energy differently, fat cells change, and women may gain weight more easily. This transition most often begins between ages 45 and 55, but the average age is 51 in the United States. It usually lasts about 7 years, but can last as long as 14 years.
After menopause, women enter post-menopause. Post-menopausal women are more vulnerable to heart disease and osteoporosis. At this time, it is important to eat a healthy diet and make sure you get lots of calcium to keep your bones strong.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES & RISKS?
Menopause can result from:
- Natural decline of reproductive hormones. Here is a timeline for you:
- Late 30s: your ovaries start making less estrogen and progesterone (the hormones that regulate menstruation) and your fertility declines.
- 40s: your menstrual periods may become longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and more or less frequent
- On average, by age 51: your ovaries stop producing eggs, and you have no more periods.
- A hysterectomy that removes your uterus but not your ovaries usually doesn’t cause immediate menopause. Although you no longer have periods, your ovaries still release eggs and produce estrogen and progesterone. But surgery that removes both your uterus and your ovaries (total hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy) does cause immediate menopause. Your periods stop immediately, and you’re likely to have hot flashes and other menopausal signs and symptoms, which can be severe, as these hormonal changes occur abruptly rather than over several years.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy.These cancer therapies can induce menopause, causing symptoms such as hot flashes during or shortly after the course of treatment. The halt to menstruation (and fertility) is not always permanent following chemotherapy, so birth control measures may still be desired.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency.About 1 percent of women experience menopause before age 40 (premature menopause). Menopause may result from primary ovarian insufficiency — when your ovaries fail to produce normal levels of reproductive hormones — stemming from genetic factors or autoimmune disease. But often no cause can be found. For these women, hormone therapy is typically recommended at least until the natural age of menopause in order to protect the brain, heart and bones.
After menopause, your risk of certain medical conditions increases. Here are a few:
- Osteoporosis. This condition causes bones to become brittle and weak, leading to an increased risk of fractures. During the first few years after menopause, you may lose bone density at a rapid rate, increasing your risk of osteoporosis. Postmenopausal women with osteoporosis are especially susceptible to fractures of their wrists, hips and spine. Make sure you are getting adequate doses of Calcium to keep your bones strong!
- Heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.When your estrogen levels decline, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases. Ask your doctor for advice on how to protect your heart, such as how to reduce your cholesterol or blood pressure if it’s too high.
- Urinary incontinence.As the tissues of your vagina and urethra lose elasticity, you may experience frequent, sudden, strong urges to urinate, including the loss of urine while coughing, laughing or lifting.
- Sexual function.Vaginal dryness from decreased moisture production and loss of elasticity can cause discomfort and slight bleeding during sexual intercourse. Also, decreased sensation may reduce your desire for sexual activity (libido).
- Weight gain.Many women gain weight during the menopausal transition and after menopause because metabolism slows. You may need to eat less and exercise more, just to maintain your current weight.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms, including changes in menstruation, are different for every woman. That’s because estrogen is used by many parts of your body. As you have less estrogen, you could have various symptoms. Many women experience very mild symptoms that are easily treated by lifestyle changes, like avoiding caffeine or carrying a portable fan to use when a hot flash strikes. Some women don’t require any treatment at all. Other symptoms can be more problematic. Most likely, you’ll experience some irregularity in your periods before they end.
In the months or years leading up to menopause (perimenopause), you might experience these signs and symptoms:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes. A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat in the upper part or all of your body. Your face and neck become flushed. Red blotches may appear on your chest, back, and arms. Heavy sweating and cold shivering can follow. Hot flashes can be very mild or strong enough to wake you up (called night sweats). Most hot flashes last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. They can happen several times an hour, a few times a day, or just once or twice a week.
- Sleep problems. Around midlife, some women start having trouble gettinga good night’s sleep. Maybe you can’t fall asleep easily, or you wake too early. Night sweats might wake you up. You might have trouble falling back to sleep if you wake up during the night.
- Mood changes. You might feel moodier or more irritable around the time of menopause.
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
There is no cure for menopause, but you can find ways of controlling the symptoms! Before considering medication, first try making changes to your lifestyle. Doctors recommend women make changes like the below for at least 3 months before starting any medication.
- Try to take note of what triggers your hot flashes and how much they bother you. This can help you make better decisions about managing your symptoms.
- Dress in layers, which can be removed at the start of a hot flash.
- Carry a portable fan to use when a hot flash strikes.
- Avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine.
- Quit Smoking.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Women who are overweight or obese may experience more frequent and severe hot flashes.
- Practice yoga or other self-calming techniques. Early-stage research has shown that mindfulness meditation, yoga, and tai chi may help improve menopausal symptoms.
- If hot flashes are keeping you up at night:
- keep your bedroom cooler
- try drinking small amounts of cold water before bed.
- Layer your bedding so it can be adjusted as needed.
- Supplement. For a menopause-friendly calcium supplement, check out our Soycal Supplement. It’s formulated with Soy Isoflavones, an ingredient that works similarly to estrogen, to promote positive menopausal health, as well as strong bones for the aging woman.
- Follow a regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day.
- Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening if you can. It may keep you awake at night.
- Develop a bedtime routine. Some people read a book, listen to soothing music, or soak in a warm bath.
- Try not to watch television or use your computer or mobile device in the bedroom. The light from these devices may make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
- Exercise at regular times each day, but not too close to bedtime.
- Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime.
As always, discuss your symptoms with your doctor, and keep them informed of any changes you may experience.
For more information on Menopause, menopause.org offers a vast section “For Women,” including video series, guidebooks, blogs, and FAQs for all of your menopausal health concerns & questions!