Understanding menopause

Are you between ages 40 and 60 and experiencing:

    • Changes in your menstrual cycle
    • Hot flashes and night sweats
    • Vaginal changes
  • Emotional changes such as mood swings, tearfulness and irritability
  • Bladder control issues (incontinence)
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble with memory and staying focused
  • A decrease in sex drive
  • Weight gain around the waist
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Increased growth of facial hair

If you are experiencing some or all of these symptoms, you may be going through menopause.

What is menopause?

As women enter their 40s and 50s, many begin to notice changes in their bodies, due primarily to changes in hormone levels. Menopause is a normal process of aging that affects every woman differently. Becoming familiar with the signs, symptoms and options to relieve symptoms is the first step to managing menopause — rather than allowing it to manage you!

Phases of menopause

  • Perimenopause: This is a transitional phase during the years leading up to menopause, usually between ages 45 and 55, but as early as late 30s. Perimenopause can last from two to eight years. The first signs of menopause begin during perimenopause and can include changes in menstrual cycle, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, a decreased interest in sex, mood changes, urinary incontinence and/or an increase in urinary tract infections, an increase in body fat around the waist and trouble concentrating or remembering.
  • Menopause: Menopause is defined as going 12 consecutive months without a period. This sometimes is referred to as “the change” or “change of life.” Some women have no other symptoms, but many women will notice the common symptoms listed above.
  • Postmenopause: This is the span of time after menopause when most symptoms have faded, but bone loss and estrogen loss are areas of concern that should be discussed with a health care provider.

Lifestyle changes make a big difference

By making a few changes to your diet and lifestyle, menopause doesn’t have to interfere with your life.

  • Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Add calcium-rich foods or take a calcium supplement and a daily multivitamin. Because osteoporosis and heart disease risk increase after menopause, eating well is more important than ever.
  • Limit how much alcohol and caffeine you drink.
  • If you smoke, quit!
  • Get regular exercise. Physical activity helps maintain weight, improves sleep, strengthens bones and elevates mood. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. A combination of aerobic and strength training activities will help fight weight gain and keep bones strong.
  • Stress reduction is as important now as ever. If you don’t already do stress-reduction activities, now is the time to start them. Meditation, yoga and other relaxing activities will help you cope with changes.
  • Dress in layers and keep a fan in your home to minimize the effects of hot flashes.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark, and go to bed and wake up at the same times every day.
  • Counseling or support groups are available for women struggling with menopause-related changes.

Getting symptom relief

Discuss prescription hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with your physician if lifestyle changes do not offer the level of symptom relief desired. HRT can help control hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness, as well as prevent osteoporosis. HRT increases the risk for blood clots, breast cancer, stroke and heart attack. Discuss your symptoms with your physician, who will determine if HRT is right for you.

Dietary supplements may help relieve some symptoms. Supplements and other products that come from plants may seem safe and claim to help improve menopausal changes. Be sure to consult with your physician before taking dietary and/or herbal supplements.

You don’t have to go it alone. Talk to your doctor.

Your physician is here to help you through this new and sometimes challenging chapter in your life. If you don’t have a doctor, call Norton Healthcare’s free physician referral service at (502) 629-1234.

Women’s Health – 4GYN

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