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Menopause is a normal part of a woman’s aging process. For many women, stopping menstruation is a welcome part of life that typically begins in your 40’s and 50’s. The average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51 years, but symptoms can begin earlier. You may first begin to notice changes in your cycle several years before your last period. This period of time is called Perimenopause. Because every woman is unique, menopause symptoms may vary.
Some of the more common signs of menopause include:
- A change in your period. You may notice that you have irregular bleeding. Some months may be very heavy and last longer and other months you may only experience some spotting.
- Hot flashes. Women can experience a sudden feeling of heat throughout their body and break out in sweats or turn red. Hot flashes may be related to fluctuating levels of estrogen.
- Insomnia. Some women experience interruption in sleep due to night sweats. This can lead to feelings of fatigue.
- Vaginal dryness. As levels of estrogen in your body begin to decline, vaginal dryness can occur, causing mild discomfort during sexual intercourse. Lubricants can help if dryness occurs.
- Mild depression or mood swings. Fluctuations in hormone levels can lead to mood swings, similar to PMS, and even depression. Talk to your doctor if feelings of depression become severe.
Treating menopausal symptoms
The physical symptoms of menopause can sometimes interfere with a woman's quality of life. Talk to your gynecologist about treatment options to manage symptoms which can range from lifestyle and dietary changes to hormone replacement therapy. Some ways to manage menopausal symptoms include:
- Diet – Some women choose to consume food with soy. Soy contains phytoestrogens, substances from a plant that may act like estrogen. There is no concrete proof, however, that soy can alleviate hot flashes or other symptoms of menopause.
- Exercise – Staying active can help maintain good health, keep weight down, help mitigate mood swings and improve sleep patterns.
- Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT)- Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone replacement to alleviate hot flashes and night sweats. This treatment is not right for every woman.
- Low dose oral contraceptives – If you are still menstruating, the “pill” may help alleviate symptoms such as hot flashes.
- Lubricants – Use lubricants to combat vaginal dryness to make sexual intercourse more comfortable.
Maintaining good health during and after menopause
During and after menopause, two common health problems many women should be aware of include osteoporosis and heart disease.
Osteoporosis – This means porous bones, and the common condition can cause bones to become weak and brittle. This is due to a decrease in estrogen and changes to your body's chemistry after menopause. Increasing your activity level and performing weight bearing exercises can help strengthen muscles that support your bones and keep your bones strong.
Heart Disease – A decrease in estrogen levels, coupled with a woman’s increasing age, can leave many women prone to developing heart disease. Weight gain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can all increase your chances of heart disease. Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet and exercising can help you and your heart stay healthy after menopause.