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Coping with Menopause and its Symptoms

Menopause is the changeover period in a woman’s life when her ovaries stop the production of eggs, the body produces less female hormones estrogen and progesterone, and menstruation becomes irregular and infrequent, before finally stopping altogether.

Fast Facts about Menopause

  • Menopause is the period in a woman’s life when her ovaries no longer produce eggs and ovulation has ceased, causing infertility. Premenopause is the phase when a woman begins to experience irregular menstrual periods, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, etc.
  • Menopause is caused by natural process of aging as well as by hysterectomy or cancer treatments.
  • Menopause starts on average between the ages of 45 and 55. If it starts before the age of 40, it is considered as premature. Women who undergo cancer treatments or surgical hysterectomy can also experience menopause.
  • The most significant sign of menopause is the end of menstrual cycles. Symptoms of menopause can differ but common symptoms include vaginal dryness, hot flashes, mood swings, low sex drive, insomnia, irritability, etc.
  • Menopause is diagnosed by its symptoms. A physical examination can determine the changes to vaginal lining caused by menopause.
  • Menopause cannot be treated, but the symptoms can be managed.
  • Menopause cannot be prevented because it is the natural occurrence in women as they age and fertility decreases.
  • Menopause symptoms can be managed with medications, yoga, tai chi, relaxation and breathing techniques, and alternative therapy.

Types of Menopause

  • Perimenopause – early menopause period
  • Postmenopause – the period after menopause has fully set in
  • Surgical menopause

Common Causes of Menopause

Over time, the ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone hormones as a natural process. This results in lower egg production with unpredictable ovulation and decline of fertility. Some other causes of menopause are:

  • Hysterectomy
  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Primary ovarian insufficiency

Risk Factors for Menopause

  • Women in the ages between 45 and 55
  • Women with surgical menopause due to hysterectomy
  • Women undergoing cancer treatments – chemotherapy and radiation therapy

Symptoms of Menopause

Hormonal changes in women cause menopause, and symptoms can begin in the phase of perimenopause. The most obvious sign of menopause is halting of menstrual cycles after irregularities and slow down. The irregularities can range from too frequent to more widely spaced, lasting for one to three years before finally stopping. The most frequent symptoms of menopause are:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Skin flushing
  • Insomnia

Other symptoms in women can include:

  • Low sex drive and decreased response to sexual stimulus
  • Headaches
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Mood swings – irritability, depression, and anxiety
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginal infections
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Musculoskeletal aches and pains
  • Palpitations

Not all women necessarily experience the same severity of symptoms. Some women never experience any menopausal symptoms, and others can experience symptoms for several years into menopause.

Diagnosing Menopause

A doctor can make a diagnosis of menopause by the patient’s signs and symptoms alone. Physical examination can determine changes to the vaginal lining that are due to lower estrogen levels. A bone density test determines bone density levels, which typically decrease during the initial menopausal period. Blood and urine tests can determine if a woman is premenopausal or perimenopausal. Blood tests include checking for hormonal levels such as estradiol (estrogen), follicle-stimulating hormone, or luteinizing hormone.

Treatment Options for Menopause

Symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal dryness can be stressful, but they can also be treated. Before beginning hormone replacement therapy, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor. Each woman’s symptoms are different and she must consider all options before deciding on any one particular treatment.

  • Hormone Therapy – recent research has questioned the benefits of hormone replacement therapy in regards to increased risks of breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots, and strokes. Your doctor and you can decide on the use of hormone replacement therapy, its duration, and discuss any possible side effects. Hormone replacement therapy is not suitable for:
  1. Women who started menopause recently
  2. It is not advisable for women who underwent menopause many years ago
  3. It is not advisable to use hormone replacement therapy for more than five years
  4. Women at risk for stroke, heart disease, blood clots, or breast cancer must not take hormone replacement therapy
  5. Risks of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be reduced by using low-dose HRT, or a vaginal cream instead of a pill. Frequent Pap smears, pelvic exams, breast exams, and mammograms can detect problems caused due to menopause
  • Medications can help relieve mood swings, hot flashes, and some other symptoms. These include Gabapentin, Paxil, Effexor, Wellbutrin, Prozac, or clonidine
  • Lifestyle changes help reduce menopausal symptoms. Avoid alcohol and caffeine and eat more soy-based foods. Get exercise and practice deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, and meditation. Remain sexually active
  • Use of vaginal lubricants like K-Y jelly helps ease vaginal dryness
  • Pelvic floor exercise called Kegel exercises can improve urinary continence symptoms

Prevention of Menopause

Menopause is not a disease, but a part of the woman’s reproductive cycle, and thus it is not preventable. Menopausal symptoms can be managed and treated with alternative therapy, yoga, tai chi, and breathing techniques. Medications are also useful in managing menopausal symptoms.

Coping with Menopause

Long-term menopausal problems can be reduced by adapting the following steps into your lifestyle:

  • Control heart disease by managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors that cause heart disease
  • Avoid smoking as it can trigger early menopause
  • Eat a well-balanced diet, which is low in fat and cholesterol
  • Avoid weight gain
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a strict schedule. Muscle strengthening exercises and resistance exercises can help strengthen bones while improving balance
  • If you have a strong family history of osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about medications that can help with avoiding further weakening of bones. Take calcium and vitamin D supplements regularly
  • Alternative therapies are effective in managing some side effects in some women. Common methods used are yoga, tai chi, and dietary supplements like black cohosh, vitamin E, and phytoestrogens (found in flaxseed, whole grains, and soybeans)
  • Alleviate general discomfort and distressing symptoms by suitable treatments

Where to Find Related Information: Women to Women