Learn the signs of Menopause
Menopause is part of a gradual and natural process in which the ovaries produce less and less of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, and menstrual periods gradually disappear. For most women this process begins silently somewhere around 40 years of age when periods may become less regular. This time of change is called perimenopause or premenopause. The average woman complete menopause when she is around 51 years old. Some women experience menopause at younger ages due to premature ovarian failure, cancer therapy or surgical removal of both ovaries.
Each woman experiences menopause differently. Changing hormone levels can cause a variety of symptoms that may last from a few months to a few years or longer. Some women have slight discomfort or worse. Others have little or no trouble. The most common symptoms include:
Change in periods — One of the first signs may be irregular periods. Some may have a lighter flow than normal; others have a heavier flow and may bleed a lot for many days. They may come more often and last longer. There may be spotting between periods.
Hot flashes — A hot flash is a sudden rush of heat in the upper part or all of your body. Keep a diary to track what sets off your hot flashes. Caffeine? Alcohol? A hot room? Stress? All are common causes. When a flash starts, take slow, deep breaths, in the nose and out the mouth. For tough cases, talk to your doctor.
Problems with the vagina and bladder — Vaginal dryness, itching andburning can make sexual intercourse painful. Vaginal infections can become more common. Try nonprescription, water-based vaginal lubricants or vaginal moisturizer. You can also ask your doctor about prescription vaginal creams or rings, or prescription pills for vaginal dryness and painful sex. Some women have more urinary tractinfections or problems with holding urine.
Sex — Some women find that their feelings about sex change with menopause. Some have vaginal dryness that makes sexual intercourse painful. Others feel freer after menopause, relieved that pregnancy is no longer a worry. Until you have had one full year without a period, you should still use birth control if you do not want to becomepregnant. After menopause, a woman can still get sexually transmitted diseases and should make sure her partner uses a condom.
Sleep problems — Some women find they have a hard time getting a goodnight’s sleep. They may not fall asleep easily or may wake too early. They may need to get up to go to the bathroom and then not able to fall back to sleep. For some women night hot flashes can interfere with sleep. Choose layers of light blankets and use a bedside fan tokeep air moving. Yoga, tai chi, and learning to meditate have all been shown to help you sleep. Any exercise can make a difference; just be sure to quit three hours before bedtime.
Mood changes — There may be a relationship between changes in estrogenlevels and a woman’s mood. Shifts in mood also may be caused by stress, family changes or feeling tired.Yoga and tai chi can help here, too. So can doing things with others that you enjoy. A low-dose birth control pill, antidepressants, and even alternative treatments are sometimes recommended for mood changes.
Headaches – Migraines can worsen at or around the time of menopause, or show up for the first time. Keep a diary to see what triggers them and if they show up along with hot flashes so you can take steps to lessen them. Eating small meals through the day can help if hunger is a headache trigger. Lack of sleep is another one, so nap if your nights are messed up. Treatments vary and can help prevent migraine frequency or severity. Talk with your doctor.
Acne – You expect to have acne in your teens but not in your 40s and 50s. Make sure your moisturizer, sunscreen, cleanser, and other face products are gentle. Look for the words “oil free,” “won’t clog pores,” “noncomedogenic,” and “non-acnegenic.” Even tough cases can clear with time and a doctor’s help.
Memory problems – Challenge your brain in new ways. Learn something new, like a hobby or language. Lowering your stress level can help, too. Women with more hot flashes have more memory complaints.
In addition to the signs that menopause is on its way, other changes are common and can start to happen at menopause.
Osteoporosis – Every day your body breaks down old bone and replaces it with new healthy bone. Estrogen helps control bone loss, so losing estrogen around the time of menopause causes women to begin to lose more bone than is replaced. In time, bones can become weak and break easily. This condition is caused osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor to see if you should have a bone density test to find out if you are at risk for this problem. Weight-bearing exercise and a diet high in
calcium and Vitamin D can help.
Heart disease – After menopause, women are more likely to have heart disease. Changes in estrogen levels may be part of the cause. But, so is getting older. As you age, you may develop other problems, like high blood pressure or weight gain, that put you at greater risk for heart disease. Be sure to have your blood pressure and levels of triglycerides, fasting blood glucose and LDL, HDL and total cholesterol checked regularly.
Talk to your doctor about what you can do to protect your bones and your heart before the onset of menopause. Changes in habits now can only help you later.