Menopause brings with it many changes. While some are positive, others can be challenging for women to deal with. There are a number of steps women can take to ease their transition through menopause, says Maria Emerson, M.D., Director of OB-GYN at Montefiore Nyack Hospital.
What is Menopause?
Menopause means the absence of menstrual periods for an entire year. The ovaries stop working and estrogen decreases. Many menopause symptoms are associated with the decline in estrogen.
Before menopause begins, women enter a phase called perimenopause or the menopause transition, which can last for several years. Women may start experiencing changes to their menstrual cycle, such as spotting before or after their period, or shorter or longer times between periods. They may also start to have other symptoms several years or more before they enter menopause.
Hot flushes, also known as hot flashes, are one of the most common menopause symptoms. “This is heat that rises in the upper body. Everybody else around you is comfortable, but you feel like you’re on fire,” Dr. Emerson said. Another common symptom is night sweats. You may feel hot and cold during the night, leading to trouble sleeping. Vaginal dryness is common, the result of the body’s drop in estrogen.
Women going through menopause often gain weight. “Women say, ‘I haven’t changed my diet or exercise routine, so why do I suddenly have a spare tire around my waist?’” Dr. Emerson said. Mood swings are also common. “You may feel more frustrated, or quicker to jump at things,” she said. Decreased sex drive and headaches are other symptoms.
“It’s important to remember that menopause does have advantages, such as no longer having a period, cramps, headaches and breast tenderness every month,” Dr. Emerson said.
What Treatments Can Help?
In the past, estrogen replacement therapy was a popular treatment for menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Dr. Emerson said she does not generally prescribe estrogen replacement therapy for her patients because of the concern it might increase the risk of certain cancers, including breast.
Exercise to help with hot flashes and mood swings. Weight-bearing exercise also helps prevent osteoporosis, which becomes more common after menopause. Cardio exercises help maintain heart health, which is important because heart disease risk increases after menopause.
Antidepressants. “A small dose of antidepressants is FDA-approved for treating hot flashes,” she said.
Vaginal creams, suppositories or rings to treat vaginal dryness.
“With menopause comes the loss of elasticity of the vagina, which can make sex painful,” Dr. Emerson said. Vaginal creams can help. Because they aren’t absorbed well in the body, they don’t increase the risk of breast cancer.
Add foods with natural estrogens to your diet on days you’re feeling really uncomfortable, such as yams, lentils and soy products.
Other tips to deal with hot flushes include layering clothing so you can take off layers when the heat hits; always having a cool drink nearby; and lowering the temperature in your home.
Some women find acupuncture helpful for hot flushes, while others say the herb black cohosh or the Chinese herb dong quai is helpful. Dr. Emerson cautions that these supplements are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which means you don’t know how much you’re getting.
“If you’re having trouble with symptoms that interfere with your daily life, talk with your doctor about steps you can take,” Dr. Emerson advises.
If you would like to discuss any menopausal symptoms with a gynecologist, please visit highlandmedicalpc.com/specialties/obs-gyn-of-rockland.