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Menopause can cause more than 30 symptoms, from hot flashes and irregular periods to dizziness and depression. Going through the “change of life” isn’t always easy, but here’s the good news: with the support of your family, friends, and physician, you can meet the challenges head on with confidence and grace.
A woman officially enters menopause 12 months after her final menstrual cycle. But symptoms can begin one to three years before that, during what is referred to as “perimenopause.” During this time of transition, a woman’s ovaries produce less and less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
“Women don’t always realize they are in perimenopause, and they attribute their symptoms to other things,” says Dr. Kelly Risner, an OB-GYN with Kettering Health. “They might blame anxiety and insomnia on stress, or reduced sex drive on ‘getting older.’ Some people suffer from these symptoms for months or even years, not realizing that treatment is available and often very effective.”
Consider hormonal, non-hormonal therapies
Treatment depends on the intensity of a woman’s symptoms, how much they affect her quality of life, and her health history. If you experience menopause-related symptoms, an important first step is to see your doctor for an evaluation and conversation about your options.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be a game-changer for women who are dealing with menopause symptoms. However, some research has shown a link between HRT and certain cancers, and the risk is higher for women who have already had cancer or have a family history of cancer.
“Cancer prevention is important, and you shouldn’t take it lightly,” Dr. Risner said. “But quality of life is important, too. When I went through menopause, the hot flashes and mood swings made me—and my husband—miserable. Even though my mom had breast cancer, I decided to go with HRT. While HRT isn’t right for everyone, I encourage my patients to consider this therapy if other strategies don’t work.”
If you are interested in HRT, talk to your doctor. Once you start taking the hormones, he or she may recommend providing more frequent cancer screenings. This recommendation can help detect cancer in its earliest stages when treatment usually is more effective.
Non-hormonal strategies can provide relief, too. These can include:
- Avoiding hot flash triggers such as caffeine and alcohol
- Taking medication for sleep issues and vaginal dryness
- Using herbal remedies, such as drinking valerian root tea, which may “take the edge off” menopausal symptoms.
Healthy habits can help, too
Women who follow a healthy lifestyle often fare better than those who don’t, Dr. Risner says. A healthy lifestyle can include:
- Getting 30-45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Doing weight resistance exercise to preserve bone and joint health
- Taking a multivitamin and calcium and vitamin D supplements
- Paying attention to your emotional and spiritual health
“Some women sail through menopause without too much difficulty, but for others the symptoms can be debilitating,” Dr. Risner says. “I encourage my patients to be proactive about managing this ‘change of life.’ With so many resources and strategies available today, there is no reason to tough it out.”
Menopause by the numbers
Average age for onset of menopause
1 in 3
Women who seek medical help for menopause symptoms
8 in 10
Women who experience hot flashes during menopause
Average length of time that hot flashes occur
1 in 10
Women who experience hot flashes into their 70s
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