Menopause

Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources

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A Guide to Menopause

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Addressing Symptoms

Menopause is not a disease that needs to be treated — however, if the symptoms of menopause are causing disruptions to your daily life, you may want to talk to your doctor about how to best manage them.

For many women, the biggest decision about addressing menopausal symptoms is whether or not to try menopausal hormone therapy (also known as hormone replacement therapy). As part of menopausal hormone therapy (MHT), your doctor might suggest taking estrogen (and in some cases, progesterone as well). MHT can help ease menopause symptoms, and may also help to prevent some of the bone loss that can occur as a woman undergoes menopause.

However, MHT can put some women at an increased risk for certain diseases, including endometrial cancer, stroke and heart disease.

The Endocrine Society recommends a woman ask her doctor the following questions before making a decision about menopausal hormone therapy:

  • Should I have my blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides checked?
  • Should I get a breast exam and mammogram?
  • Should I get a Pap smear and pelvic exam?
  • Should I review my family history of heart disease, blood clots or breast cancer?
  • What is the lowest dose of hormone therapy that will work for me?
  • In light of my medical history, what is the safest form of therapy to take?
  • How long should I take menopausal hormone therapy?
  • What are the possible side effects of hormone therapy, and how can I deal with them?
  • If I want to stop menopausal hormone therapy, should I stop cold turkey or taper off?

A less controversial medical option to discuss with your doctor is a low dose of an antidepressant such as paroxetine (Paxil), venlafaxine (Effexor), bupropion (Wellbutrin), or fluoxetine (Prozac), all of which have been shown to be effective against hot flashes.

 

Other Ways to Address Symptoms

Mind-body practices such as yoga, tai chi and acupuncture appear to help reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms. Up-to-date information about the most current scientific studies of these and other remedies is available from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

There is also evidence that the worse a woman imagines her hot flashes to be in advance, the more intense they will be. Changing those negative thoughts and attitudes can result in a reduction of symptoms. The North American Menopause Society offers tips that may transform the menopause mindset, including laughing, staying connected to others and practicing mindfulness. 

Many experts advise women that minor lifestyle changes, including the following, can make the transition into menopause more comfortable:

  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods to help lessen the occurrence of hot flashes.
  • Dressing lightly, in cotton clothing. Wear layers you can adjust quickly if a hot flash occurs.
  • Performing  Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles of your vagina and pelvis.
  • Practicing slow, deep breathing whenever a hot flash starts to come on.
  • Remaining sexually active to preserve the elasticity of your vagina; use water-based lubricants as needed.
  • Staying active — physical activity is not a proven way to reduce menopausal symptoms, but for many women regular physical activity during and after menopause seems to relieve stress and improve quality of life.

 

Life After Menopause

After a woman transitions into menopause, she enters a new phase of her life — post-menopause. While a woman's estrogen levels will often continue to decline in the first year after menopause, many of the symptoms of the past few years will start to ease considerably. However, the decline in estrogen and progesterone in a woman's body can put her at a higher risk for certain diseases — most notably, osteoporosis and heart disease.

Stay healthy in the years after menopause by scheduling regular checkups with your doctors and making sure you receive all the appropriate screening tests for your age group. Put a renewed emphasis on making positive lifestyle changes, as well. Avoiding cigarettes, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, staying physically active, and taking any medications prescribed by your doctor will keep you looking and feeling great in the years after menopause.

 

Published July 9, 2012.

 

Eve Harris helps healthcare providers, patients, advocates and researchers bridge communication gaps. Her knowledge of the patient experience ensures compelling stories while her understanding of medicine ensures accuracy.

 

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