Just as puberty, pregnancy, and childbirth affect all women differently, they also experience menopause in different ways. Some women seem to breeze through menopause while others have a very difficult time with their symptoms. They may try alternative types of menopause treatments to find relief, but just as women experience menopause differently, the effectiveness of treatments varies as well. Here's what you should know about common menopause symptoms and the best treatment options.
The Lowdown on Menopause
Menopause is the time in your life after you completely stop menstruating. The time leading up to your final menstruation is perimenopause, and it can last several years. Once you've gone 12 straight months without menstruating, you're considered post-menopausal. For most women, menopause occurs naturally between the ages of 41 and 58, as the ovaries stop producing the hormones needed to ovulate. But some women may experience menopause much earlier, either naturally or as a result of a surgery or medical treatment.
Common Menopause Symptoms
While not all women experience symptoms with menopause, here are some of the most common ones.
- Hot flashes: Often the butt of many comedians' jokes, the sudden and intense sensation of hot flashes and night sweats is anything but amusing to the women experiencing it. The heat can affect your whole body and make you sweat profusely, or it may affect only your chest, neck, and face, causing flushing and blotches. Hot flashes can typically last around 30 seconds, but they can also endure for as long as 10 minutes.
- Insomnia and fatigue: Some women find it more difficult to get a restorative night's sleep as they go through menopause. The reasons may be unclear, although night sweats can be strong enough to wake you up.
- Vaginal dryness: As your estrogen level drops, you may find that your vagina feels tighter and experience burning, itching, and dryness. This is called vaginal atrophy, and it could make having sex feel uncomfortable or painful.
- Weight gain: Your body shape may change with menopause. Many women find that they lose muscle mass, which is then replaced with fatty tissue. Your abdomen and waist might get larger, even if you don't feel like you've gained a lot of weight.
How to Treat Menopause Symptoms
Menopause treatments range from drug therapy to lifestyle changes, and how effective they are differs between women. Here are some tips that may help you through this stage of your life.
- Hormone replacement therapy: Menopause occurs because your ovaries are no longer producing estrogen and progesterone. Hormone therapy replaces the lost hormones, and can reduce hot flashes, minimize night sweats, and relieve vaginal dryness. Hormone replacement therapy is not for everyone though. Women with a history of vaginal bleeding, certain types of cancers, blood clots, or liver disease usually shouldn't take hormones. Hormones may increase your risk of heart attacks, blood clots, stroke, or gallbladder disease. If you're interested in using hormone therapy, speak with your doctor to see if it's right for you.
- Herbs: If you want to try herbs to ease symptoms, discuss this option with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure they don't interact with any prescription or over-the-counter medicines. The most commonly used herbs that may reduce hot flashes include black cohosh and red clover.
- Layers: To accommodate hot flashes, try dressing in layers so you can remove items of clothing as needed. At night, layer your bedding so you can remove heavier covers and then replace them once the hot flash has passed. You can also keep a small fan next to your bed at night or desk during the day.
- Vaginal lubricants: A water-based vaginal lubricant allows you to enjoy sex without vaginal atrophy's discomfort.
- Stress management: Techniques to alleviate stress, such as meditation, mindfulness, tai chi, and yoga, have helped some women get through the more uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.
- Food and drink: Spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine can increase or worsen hot flashes and insomnia. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is always your best bet.
- Exercise: Getting regular exercise not only helps you maintain or lose weight if needed, but studies suggest that exercise can help ease menopause-related insomnia and hot flashes in some women.
Menopause is an inevitable part of a woman's life that may or may not cause some uncomfortable symptoms. But if you know what to expect and what types of treatments are available, you may not even notice that you've gone through it.