Menopause: some of us worry about it, while others embrace it. But one thing’s for sure: it means plenty of changes for a woman’s body. Menopause isn’t a disease: it’s a natural phase of life. Let’s face it: the transition to the next stage isn’t always fun. However, with support from your doctor, menopause can be a happy, healthy time.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause occurs when your period stops because of hormonal changes in your body. However, you aren’t officially in menopause until your period stops for at least 12 months. Before that, most women experience a menopausal transition period called perimenopause. We experience perimenopause as our bodies adjust to fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate menstruation and pregnancy. According to the National Institutes of Health, most women go through the menopausal transition between 45 and 55 years old. It can last for several years or more than a decade. Rapid menopause can also happen when women have their ovaries surgically removed.
What Are The Symptoms of Perimenopause?
The menopause transition is different for every person. Some women experience relatively few symptoms, while others may struggle and need medical support. Some common symptoms of perimenopause include:
- Irregular periods: many women go from regular periods to an unpredictable phase during perimenopause. Periods can be irregular, longer, heavier and can strike when we least expect them.
- Hot flashes are associated with fluctuations in estrogen levels and involve a sudden feeling of heat in your body. They can last less than a minute–or up to 10 minutes– and often involve heavy sweating.
- Trouble sleeping: as we age, we may have difficulty falling asleep, experience nighttime hot flashes or wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep.
- Pain during sex: your vagina may become drier as hormone levels change, and sex may become painful.
Moodiness, irritability or depression
- Bladder control issues: you may experience leaking when you laugh or sneeze– or need to pee more frequently. Some women also find they’re more susceptible to bladder infections as they age.
- Weight gain: many women gain weight or see changes in their body shape or weight distribution during menopause.
What Should I Expect in the Postmenopausal Phase?
Many patients experience relief to be done with their period, and perimenopause symptoms often disappear or diminish on the other side. However, postmenopausal women are at higher risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Partner with your primary care doctor to keep up with heart and bone health as you age.
How Can My Doctor Help Me Manage Menopause Symptoms?
Some women have trouble deciding whether to treat menopause symptoms or ride them out with lifestyle changes. For many of us, it depends on the severity of symptoms, and some women opt for a mix of wellness and medical interventions. Your primary care provider is an excellent resource if you’re experiencing menopause symptoms.
- Lifestyle changes to help with menopause symptoms include:
- Eat a healthy diet, including plenty of calcium for bone health.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Quit tobacco use.
- Stay active: exercise helps with our physical and mental well-being as we move through the menopause transition and postmenopausal phase.
- Your doctor may also recommend hormone therapy to treat menopause symptoms. Hormone therapy is available in numerous forms, including pills, patches, rings, implants, gels or creams and provides relief from a range of symptoms. It’s a lifesaver for many women but can pose health risks for some women, including heart attack, stroke and blood clots. Studies have also tied hormone therapy to a higher risk of breast cancer. However, in some cases, the benefits outweigh the risks as more low-dose options become available. If you think you’re a good candidate for hormone therapy, talk with your primary care provider.
- If you experience vaginal dryness, your doctor may recommend targeted estrogen creams, rings or tablets that offer lower levels of hormones. There are also non-hormonal medications available for patients with more severe dryness.
- If you experience menopausal mood changes, your primary care doctor is an excellent resource. We can recommend medications, refer you to a qualified therapist or both.
- Many patients benefit from a low dose of the antidepressant paroxetine for hot flashes.
The menopause experience is different for every woman. We can accept the changes in our bodies without accepting discomfort or depression. At PrimaPatient, we focus on women’s health through all phases of life, including relief from menopause symptoms in safe and effective ways. Whether you need minimal intervention or a more comprehensive medical approach, Dr. Ojha offers support as you move through this new phase of life– in your own way.