Menopause: Navigating the Change
Feb 19, 2018
Many women think menopause is something that happens overnight. In reality, it’s a process that begins when a woman’s ovarian function slows down, around the age of 51. A woman officially reaches menopause when her periods have stopped for 12 months in a row. However, it’s often the years leading up to menopause, called the “menopausal transition,” that cause the most significant changes.
“Menopause symptoms vary greatly from woman to woman and they are really hard to predict. One woman’s symptoms are not normal or abnormal, we’re all different,” said obstetrician and gynecologist, Ashley Dupuis, DO.
Some of the most common menopause symptoms include:
- Hot flashes – These are sudden, extreme heat sensations in the face, neck, and chest that can last from one to five minutes. They may cause symptoms similar to an anxiety attack such as flushing, chills, or heart palpitations.
Treatment can include medications such as hormone replacement therapy or antidepressants. However, medication isn’t something every woman needs and is typically only recommended for severe hot flashes. Lifestyle modifications such as layering your clothes, maintaining a cooler temperate, consuming cool drinks, and avoiding alcohol or caffeine can also help alleviate symptoms.
- Vaginal symptoms – By not having as much estrogen as your body is used to, it can cause your vaginal tissue to thin resulting in dryness, discharge, itching, or painful sex. Vaginal symptoms are not always apparent right away, sometimes they may take a few years during the menopausal transition to develop. Symptoms also depend on how sexually active you are. Around 10 to 40 percent of postmenopausal women report vaginal symptoms.
Local therapy, or vaginal medications, can be used in the form of a cream, ring, or tablet. These types of treatment are not associated with an increased risk of cancer so use of a progesterone is not needed. Non-hormonal therapy options include vaginal lubricants, which are applied before intercourse, or moisturizers, intended to trap moisture for long-term relief.
- Menstrual irregularity – If you’re used to having periods every 28 or 30 days all of the sudden that can change. Periods may start coming more frequently during the transition, but eventually they should begin to spread out. You should go a few months a time without a period until you eventually get to that 12-month mark. This is when bleeding should stop completely. If you still experience bleeding after this point you should contact your healthcare provider.
- Depression – This is something some women struggle with their whole lives while others feel it start to creep in around their late 40s to 50s. Depression could be related to changes in hormones and signals in your brain or as a result of the other menopause symptoms you may be experiencing. There’s a variety of things that can lead to depression and it should be taken seriously. Treatment options such as relaxation techniques, healthy sleep patterns, exercise, and counseling therapy should all be tried prior to medication.
To learn more about navigating the changes menopause can bring, watch the video below: