Menopause is a life stage that women typically experience between the ages of 45 and 55. For some women, menopause can be challenging, so a greater understanding of the symptoms and treatments can help smooth the natural transition.
Q. How do I know if what I’m experiencing is menopause?
A. Menopause is defined as a woman’s final menstruation and is triggered by a natural decline in female hormones released by the ovaries, surgical removal of the ovaries, lack of sufficient reproductive hormones or sometimes by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. A woman is officially experiencing menopause after she hasn’t had her menstrual period for 12 consecutive months.
Some women confuse perimenopause with menopause. Perimenopause generally occurs years before women reach menopause and can include irregular menstrual periods and other common menopause symptoms.
Q. What are the symptoms of menopause?
A. Aside from the end of menstruation, some women have no additional symptoms. For others, symptoms may include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, irregular or missed menstrual periods, sleep disturbances, weight gain, thinning hair and decreased fertility.
Q. Do all women have hot flashes during menopause?
A. Not all women undergoing menopause suffer through hot flashes. The following factors have been associated with increased incidence of hot flashes:
- Lack of exercise
- Ethnicity (More African-American women report hot flashes than do those of European or Asian descent.)
Q. Are there any health risks associated with menopause?
A. A woman’s risk for chronic medical conditions can increase after menopause:
- Cardiovascular disease: The decline in estrogen increases risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Osteoporosis: During the first few years after menopause, women may rapidly lose bone density, leading to enhanced risk for osteoporosis.
- Urinary incontinence: As vaginal tissues lose elasticity, women may struggle with urinary incontinence, which can be controlled by strengthening pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises.
- Weight gain: During and after menopause, women may need to decrease caloric intake and exercise more to maintain their current weight.
Q. Are there treatments for menopause?
A. Contemporary treatments focus on relieving any symptoms of menopause that may be disruptive, as well as assessing current or potential chronic medical conditions. Women should speak with their health care provider about risks and benefits related to treatment options, which may include hormone replacement therapy.
Women may also find relief through lifestyle changes such as:
- Eating a balanced diet that limits saturated fats, oils and sugars. For some women, hot flashes may be triggered by hot beverages, spicy foods or alcohol.
- Smoking cessation.
- Exercising a minimum of 30 minutes per day at a moderate intensity level.
- Incorporating relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and yoga.
- Optimizing sleep by avoiding caffeine and exercising earlier in the day.
Menopause is a natural stage in the life continuum for women. By partnering with health care providers, women can minimize discomfort and embrace the next stage in their lives.
Linda McClintock is a Mayo Clinic Health System certified family nurse practitioner.
For more information, please go to www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org.
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