Menopause is a natural biological process that occurs for most women in their 40s and 50s. It’s diagnosed in most women after going 12 months without a menstrual period. This can be a time of immense change for women and can often be a confusing experience to navigate. Coupled with the various physical and emotional symptoms, menopause can interfere in the daily life of many women.
The process of menopause is not instantaneous. Rather, it includes a gradual transition process from perimenopause to menopause that varies between women. Treatment of menopause is customized for each woman to best serve her needs.
Menopause symptoms vary, but some of the most common symptoms include:
- Loss of monthly menstruation
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Mood swings
- Difficulties with memory and concentration
- Lack of motivation
Phases of Menopause
Though menopause varies between women, it’s often understood best by the various stages women go through during the menopause process. They are:
Perimenopause. This is the first phase of the menopause process. It begins 8 to 10 years before menopause itself and is marked by the ovaries producing less estrogen. In this phase, many women begin to experience menopause symptoms, but still have a monthly cycle and can get pregnant.
Menopause. Menopause begins after one year without a menstrual period. Ovaries no longer produce estrogen and have stopped releasing eggs.
Postmenopause. These are the years after menopause. Lower levels of estrogen in this phase put women at a higher risk for osteoporosis and heart disease.
Menopause is part of the natural aging process of women. Females are born with a finite amount of eggs stored in the ovaries. Ovaries also make the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which control menstruation and ovulation. When monthly menstruation ends, these hormone changes cause menopause symptoms.
When menopause occurs before age 40, it is called premature menopause. This can happen in women that undergo a hysterectomy or chemotherapy.
If you are diagnosed with menopause or you experience many of these symptoms, you have a number of options for treatment. These include:
Hormone Therapy. These are medications containing female hormones to replace the ones the body no longer makes after menopause. They are used to treat common menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and vaginal discomfort. There are risks associated with using hormone therapy, including heart disease, blood clots, breast cancer, and stroke. The most common hormones used for treatment are:
– Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH levels increase and estradiol levels decrease as menopause occurs
– Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause symptoms similar to those of menopause.
Weight Loss and Exercise. Adopting a healthy diet and monitoring caloric intake can help manage menopause symptoms.
Menopause Support Groups. Joining online support groups is a great way to find a community of women that are experiencing similar symptoms.
– Vaginal Estrogen. Estrogen can be administered directly to the vagina using a vaginal cream, tablet, or ring to help ease vaginal dryness. A small amount of estrogen is absorbed by the vaginal tissues.
– CBD Oil. CBD oil can be effective for managing pain and inflammation associated with menopause.
– Antidepressants. Low doses of certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may decrease menopausal hot flashes.
– Staying sexually active. Staying sexually active helps by increasing blood flow to the vagina.
– Get enough sleep. Decreased sleep can increase menopause symptoms.
– Kegel exercises. These strengthen your public floor muscles and can relieve urinary incontinence associated with menopause.
Fortunately, most symptoms of menopause are temporary.
Often, finding the right treatment takes trial and error and many women find that treating menopause can be a difficult process. Review your options yearly, as your needs and treatment options may change. Talk to your doctor to explore your treatment options if your symptoms are severe.