|True Life Story: Menopause
|When Lori realized she was going through menopause, she was almost relieved to know what was happening. Learn why.
Summary for HealthiNation's Menopause
Hosted by Dr. Holly Atkinson, Internal Medicine
What Is Menopause?
Clinically, a woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for 12 consecutive months. The time leading up to menopause is called perimenopause, and the time after is called postmenopause. The most significant time is the year or two of change leading up to menopause. During this time, a woman's body will make a lot less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Many women begin to notice changes and often wonder whether any of the symptoms they are feeling are "normal."
Menopause affects every woman differently, but there are common signs that the change is happening.
- Hot Flashes. This is a classic symptom, and can range from feeling flush in the face, neck or chest through to perspiring profusely at night (also called 'night sweats').
- Changes in Your Period. The time between your cycles may change, as can the flow or heaviness.
- Abnormal Bleeding or "Spotting." This is very common as you near menopause. But if your periods have stopped for 12 months and you still have spotting, you should visit your doctor. This could be a symptom of a more serious problem.
- Emotional Changes. You may experience mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety and feeling tired or tense. Sleep problems further contribute to these discomforts.
- Vaginal Changes. The vagina may become dry and thin, making sexual intercourse painful. Some women may also experience an increase in vaginal infections.
- Osteoporosis. Thinning of the bones can lead to loss in height and an increased risk of bone fractures.
- Urinary Incontinence. You may experience leaking, burning or pain when urinating, or leaking when sneezing, coughing or laughing.
- Decreased Libido. Some women also experience a decrease in their sex drive, from less interest in sex to changes in their sexual response.
- Weight gain or Increased Body Fat. This is common especially around the waistline.
- Thinning Hair or Hair Loss.
- Problems with Concentration or Memory.
The best advice is to learn everything you can about menopause and talk to your doctor, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Each woman will experience menopause differently—some will have mild symptoms, others severe.
Although every woman will experience menopause, the experience is not the same for everyone. Each woman has to adapt and accept the changes that come with her personal version of menopause.
Treating Menopause Symptoms
There are so many different ways to treat the symptoms of menopause. Here are some of the most common options:
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Many women have had success with HRT, but researchers have found links to increased risk of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer. You and your doctor should discuss if HRT is an option for you. There's no one-size-fits-all recommendation regarding HRT.
- Low-dose Antidepressants. SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, may decrease hot flashes by up to 60 percent as well as help with depression. Your doctor can explain any side effects.
- Vaginal Estrogen. This can relieve vaginal dryness. You administer it by inserting an estrogen tablet, ring or cream directly into the vagina.
- Identify Hot Flash Triggers. These can include spicy foods, alcohol, hot beverages, hot weather or a warm room. Dress in layers and get plenty of exercise to manage hot flashes.
- Relieve Vaginal Discomfort. You can use over-the-counter water-based vaginal lubricants, moisturizers, or vaginal estrogen. Staying sexually active helps too.
- Reduce Sleep Disturbances. Avoid caffeine after lunch and don't exercise right before bed. Try breathing relaxation techniques or even guided meditation. This may help to calm you before bedtime.
- Manage Your Weight. Exercise routinely and eat well. This will help lift your mood and foster a more positive body image.
- Practice Kegel Exercises. You may want to include Kegel exercises as part of your regime; they will help strengthen your pelvic floor and improve some forms of urinary incontinence.
Women who have gone through menopause are at a higher risk of other conditions including cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. The good news is that many of the treatment approaches to menopause do double duty by helping to either prevent or lessen the affects of these related conditions.
Most importantly, schedule regular check-ups with your doctor and talk to him or her about your symptoms of menopause.
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