Women in their late 40s or early 50s experience a bodily transition called menopause, which is defined by the absence of menstruation for a full year. In this post we’ll explore what menopause is, what symptoms women should expect to experience when it arrives, how to treat those symptoms, and where to seek medical help if needed.
What is menopause?
As women enter their mid-40s, some begin to experience the signs of perimenopause, which is the period of time before menopause begins. Many want to know what this ‘early menopause’ is like—and it varies from woman to woman. Basically, it’s a response to the hormonal reduction in ovary production. Irregular periods may result as well as sleep disruptions and mood swings. While there is no specific test to determine if one has entered perimenopause, women will know they’re past it and into actual menopause after they have not experienced a period for a full year.
When menopause arrives, the eggs that are typically released by the ovaries each month, referred to as ‘ovulation’ stops and this marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. Lower levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone result in several bodily changes. When it happens naturally, menopause usually occurs in the late 40s or early 50s for most women, and the best way to predict when it will happen is asking the older women (siblings or parents) in the family when it arrived for them. However, other factors can cause early menopause, such as having a hysterectomy, pelvic injuries or chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
In addition to irregular periods leading up to the end of menstruation, many women experience, sweating, hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, weight gain, sleep issues, muscle and joint pain, loss of breast fullness, reduction of libido, depression, thinning of the hair or increased hair growth, headaches and/or fatigue when they enter menopause. Some women also develop cataracts in their eyes during menopause and a natural reduction in bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis.
The most common and often discussed symptoms of menopause are hot flashes, which can be triggered by stress, the consumption of spicy food or caffeine, and/or being somewhere hot. Hot flashes can include dizziness and occur multiple times per day, resulting in heart palpitations for some. Many women also report a change in skin color, with red and blotchy patches accompanying the rise in temperature. External factors like smoking and obesity may increase the frequency or likelihood of hot flashes, as well.
The duration of symptoms vary, but the average time women experience the effects of menopause is between 4 and 7 years.
What are the treatments for menopause?
The easiest place to start when treating your body for symptoms of menopause is with lifestyle modifications. For those experiencing hot flashes, dressing in layers and keeping the bedroom cool at night is essential for comfort. There are also waterproof sheets that can be used for those who suffer from night sweats.
Managing your weight through exercise and a nutritional diet has also been found to help alleviate the symptoms caused by menopause. Moderate exercise for just 20 – 30 minutes per day can improve one’s mood, increase energy, maintain weight and promote better sleep. Relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation have proven to be effective at reducing the effects of menopause for many women as well. Adding supplements such as calcium, vitamin D and magnesium can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis by strengthening bone density.
Limiting alcohol, taking great care of the skin by applying moisturizer and sunscreen and breaking the habit of smoking (if applicable) can also help.
If lifestyle modifications aren’t enough to reduce or eliminate menopause symptoms, hormone replacement therapy and other medicines may be prescribed. A medical professional can help determine the best course of action based on individual needs.
Where to Get Help for Menopause
At Western Washington Medical Group, our Family Practice Clinics can help you navigate the symptoms associated with menopause. Select your preferred location on that page to schedule an appointment. For more general health inquiries, fill out the form on this page.