Missed or irregular periods? Heavy menstrual flow? Hot flashes? Trouble sleeping? If this sounds like you and you’re approaching or have reached 50 years of age, your body is likely entering menopause. Though you may have begun experiencing some of these symptoms earlier, during a phase called perimenopause, going through the transition to a menopausal stage of life may mean you have some big questions related to your health.
At Moreland OB-GYN, we focus on building strong relationships with our patients. If you’re beginning to experience the signs and symptoms commonly experienced by women in menopause and feeling out of balance, here are some key facts and helpful tips for you to keep in mind.
What is Menopause?
A woman is considered menopausal when she has gone a full 12 months without her period. The average age of menopause is 51. Estrogen is one of the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle. During perimenopause, this hormone decreases until it is low enough that your menstrual cycle stops. Some women notice changes in their cycles as well as physical changes gradually over several years, while other women notice their periods just stop, with very little physical changes.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Menopause?
The most common signal of menopause is the absence of your menstrual period. However, some women report skipping periods and experiencing changes in their menstrual flow and length of cycles leading up to menopause.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor:
- Your periods are very heavy or they include blood clots
- Your periods last much longer than usual
- You experience spotting either between periods or after sex
- Your periods happen closer together
Other common signs and symptoms associated with menopause include:
- Hot Flashes - A sudden sensation of heat that rushes to your upper body and face that lasts anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes or longer. Some women experience hot flashes a few times each month, while others have them several times each day. Hot flashes that occur at night, also called “night sweats,” may even wake you up at night and prevent you from falling back to sleep.
- Difficulty Sleeping - In addition to the possibility of waking up at night from hot flashes, some women experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep through the night.
- Vaginal Dryness and/or Discomfort During Sex - As estrogen levels decrease, the lining of the vagina often becomes thinner, dryer and less elastic, all of which can cause pain during sex.
- Urinary Tract Changes - Changing hormone levels often contribute to urine leakage when coughing or sneezing, and can cause the urethra to become dry, inflamed or irritated. This often causes a more frequent and urgent need to urinate, which can increase the risk of urinary tract infections.
- Mood swings or Mental Fogginess - Depression and Anxiety can be experienced during the menopausal transition and cause you to feel more irritable, sad, overwhelmed, or have trouble concentrating.
Please note: Pelvic Pain is NOT a sign of menopause and you should see your provider if you are experiencing any new or different pelvic pain.
How Do I Know If I Am in Menopause?
If you have not had your period in 12 months, but you’re unsure if you are in menopause, your doctor can order a simple blood test to check your hormone levels.
Are There Any Menopause Health Risks?
The estrogen produced by a woman’s ovaries before menopause protects against heart attacks and stroke. When less estrogen is made naturally after menopause, women lose much of this protection. At this time, women also may experience increases in other risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. These translate to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke in menopausal women.
Bone loss is another menopausal health risk. During the first 4-8 years of menopause, women have a tendency to lose bone more rapidly. This rapid bone loss is due to decreased levels of estrogen. Too much bone loss can elevate a woman’s risk of osteoporosis, which increases the risk of bone fractures. The most common areas for bone fractures related to osteoporosis include the hips, wrists and the spine.
What Can I Do to Alleviate Menopause Symptoms?
Many women turn to hormone therapy to help relieve the symptoms of menopause. There are a variety of treatment options available, including:
- Wear layers
- Always have a portable or handheld fan nearby
- Wear loose clothing to bed made of natural fibers, like cotton
- Keep bedroom cool and well ventilated
- Avoid excessive caffeine, red wine, and spicy foods
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
There are a variety of options including oral medications, patches, gels, vaginal rings, etc., available to women. At Moreland, we individualize our recommendations according to your health needs and lifestyle so you can better understand the changes that are happening and to present the best options to manage this transition.
If you experience vaginal dryness or discomfort during sexual intercourse, we recommend using over-the-counter products to ease these menopause-related symptoms. Vaginal moisturizers can be used every 2-3 days as needed, while lubricants can and should be used each time you engage in sexual activity.
What Can I Do to Stay Healthy During and After Menopause?
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best way to make the most of your years after menopause. We recommend the following:
- Good Nutrition - Eating a balanced diet throughout your life is the key to good health. During and after menopause, make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D to help maintain strong bones.
- Get Regular Exercise - Not only does regular exercise help to improve your overall health, but it also helps slow bone loss. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, will help keep your bones strong. Strength training, such as lifting weights or using exercise bands, strengthens both muscles and bones as a result of the resistance against the weight. Finally, balance training, like yoga and tai chi, has been proven to help prevent falls, which often result in broken bones.
- See Your Provider - Visit your gynecologist or other healthcare professional at least once a year for regular exams and tests, as this is key for maintaining good health and detecting any problems early. Don’t minimize the importance of dental and eye exams as well, since changes in oral health (bleeding or receding gum tissue) and vision problems often lead to underlying health issues.
We understand how monumental this transition is for women, and while many simply grin and bear the signs and occasional discomfort associated with menopause, there are many options available to help alleviate the symptoms, preserve your health, and help maintain a high quality of life.
We’re happy to answer any questions that you have and deliver a personalized care plan tailored specifically to your needs.
At Moreland OB-GYN, we specialize in women’s health care and prioritizing the needs of our patients at all ages and stages of life. We hope you’ll connect with us to answer your questions and we hope you’ll turn to our experts as a trusted source for information.