Are you having trouble sleeping? Sweating at night? Having hot flashes? If so, you may be experiencing the effects of menopause (which is the natural decline in a woman’s reproductive hormones). And, like most women, you may be looking for ways to relieve these symptoms without the added stress.
“The menopausal transition can be a difficult time for women because of the various symptoms that occur due to hormonal changes. Vasomotor symptoms or hot flashes can affect 50-80% of women, and vaginal symptoms such as dryness or atrophy can affect 10-40% of women,” said Dr. Erin Mankus, a gynecologist/obstetrician at University Health and assistant professor with UT Health San Antonio.
The good news is, there are various lifestyle and treatment options available for these symptoms to improve your quality of life. It is important to discuss these options with your healthcare provider to determine the treatment that is safe and effective for you.
Common menopause symptoms
Most women experience the menopausal transition in their 40s or 50s. The median age of menopause is 51 years. Menopause is the permanent end of menstrual cycles due to the loss of ovarian function. Your doctor will typically diagnose menopause after 12 months with no menstruation. Many women have pre-menopausal symptoms for up to a year before the start of menopause.
Menopause usually lasts about seven years but can be as long as 14 years. During the menopausal transition, a woman’s estrogen and progesterone hormone levels begin to vary greatly. Because of the changes in these hormone levels, women may experience the following symptoms:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Pain during intercourse
- Increased anxiety/changes in mood
- Need to urinate more frequently
- Breast soreness
- Joint pain
- Digestive problems
- Hair loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Weight gain
It’s also important to note that menopause can cause bone density to drop by 2-5% per year for the first 5-10 years after menopause, which could put you at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Make sure to talk to your doctor about what you can do to prevent bone loss. A few options to consider include taking a calcium supplement or vitamin, performing weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises to reduce the risk of fractures and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
What can I do to manage my menopause symptoms?
If you are experiencing any signs of menopause, talk to your doctor about possible treatments to help you manage your symptoms. Some of the most common menopause treatments include:
- Systemic hormone therapy- estrogen hormone therapy alone or in combination with progestin can be used to relieve hot flashes and even help prevent bone loss.
- Medications- certain medications can help prevent hot flashes and can be beneficial for women who can’t use estrogen hormone therapy. Speak to your doctor about what medications may be right for you.
- Vaginal estrogen- vaginal estrogen can help relieve vaginal dryness, discomfort with intercourse and some urinary symptoms.
To help relieve menopause symptoms at home you can:
- Consume less caffeine to reduce headaches and help you sleep.
- Consider doing yoga, tai-chi or meditation to help you relax and get some sleep.
- Eat small healthy meals and snacks during the day to ward off headaches and mood swings.
- Beat brain fog and lower your stress levels with new hobbies or interests.
Chronic conditions and menopause
In addition to osteoporosis, there are a few other chronic illnesses and disease you should be aware of that could be caused by the onset of menopause. This includes an increase in cardiovascular disease. Women may be at a greater risk of heart disease because menopause may cause a deterioration in their HDL or good cholesterol levels. Diabetes is also another risk factor for women who are overweight. This is why it’s especially important to exercise and eat healthy balanced meals during menopause.
Remember that menopause may be a challenging time for your body, but with a good diet, an active lifestyle and help from your doctor, you can easily manage the changes menopause brings.
University Health gynecologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of numerous conditions in women from pre-adolescence to post-menopause. Learn more about our gynecology services or call 210-358-TALK (8255) to request an appointment.