Menopause is defined as the ceasing of menstruation. It is the period in a woman’s life (typically between the ages of 45 and 50) when menstruation ceases. Menopause age differs from woman to woman with some coming as early as age 40.
Menopause is a natural biological process. Although it also ends fertility, you can stay healthy, vital and sexual. Some women feel relieved because they no longer need to worry about pregnancy.
Even so, the physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, and emotional symptoms of menopause may disrupt your sleep, lower your energy or — for some women — trigger anxiety or feelings of sadness and loss.
Here are some signs that indicate to you that menopause is approaching
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness and decreased libido
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
Tips to relive the symptoms of menopause
Menopause requires no medical treatment. Instead, treatments focus on relieving your signs and symptoms and preventing or managing chronic conditions that may occur with aging.
Treatments may include:
- Hormone therapy: Estrogen therapy remains, by far, the most effective treatment option for relieving menopausal hot flashes. Depending on your personal and family medical history, your doctor may recommend estrogen in the lowest dose needed to provide symptom relief for you. If you still have your uterus, you’ll need progestin in addition to estrogen. Estrogen also helps prevent bone loss. And hormone therapy may benefit your heart if started within five years after your last menstrual period.
- Vaginal estrogen: To relieve vaginal dryness, estrogen can be administered directly to the vagina using a vaginal cream, tablet or ring. This treatment releases just a small amount of estrogen, which is absorbed by the vaginal tissues. It can help relieve vaginal dryness, discomfort with intercourse and some urinary symptoms.
- Low-dose antidepressants: Certain antidepressants may decrease menopausal hot flashes. A low-dose antidepressant for management of hot flashes may be useful for women who can’t take estrogen for health reasons or for women who need an antidepressant for a mood disorder.
- Medications to prevent or treat osteoporosis: Depending on individual needs, doctors may recommend medication to prevent or treat osteoporosis. Several medications are available that help reduce bone loss and risk of fractures.
Before deciding on any form of treatment, talk with your doctor about your options and the risks and benefits involved with each.
Lifestyle changes that help manage menopause
Fortunately, many of the signs and symptoms associated with menopause are temporary. Take these steps to help reduce or prevent their effects:
Cool hot flashes. Dress in layers, have a cold glass of water or go somewhere cooler. Try to pinpoint what triggers your hot flashes. For many women, triggers may include hot beverages, caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol, stress, hot weather and even a warm room.
Decrease vaginal discomfort. Use over-the-counter, water-based vaginal lubricants or moisturizers . Choose products that don’t contain glycerin, which can cause burning or irritation in women who are sensitive to that chemical. Staying sexually active also helps by increasing blood flow to the vagina.
Get enough sleep. Avoid caffeine, which can make it hard to get to sleep, and avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can interrupt sleep. Exercise during the day, although not right before bedtime. If hot flashes disturb your sleep, you may need to find a way to manage them before you can get adequate rest.
Strengthen your pelvic floor. Pelvic floor muscle exercises, called Kegel exercises, can improve some forms of urinary incontinence.
Eat a balanced diet. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit saturated fats, oils and sugars. Ask your provider if you need calcium or vitamin D supplements to help meet daily requirements.
Don’t smoke. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, cancer and a range of other health problems. It may also increase hot flashes and bring on earlier menopause.
Exercise regularly. Get regular physical activity or exercise on most days to help protect against heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and other conditions associated with aging.