Menopause is the time when a woman’s lifetime of periods ends for good, and she can no longer get pregnant. The time leading up to this point is often referred to as menopause, but the actual term for the bodily changes that lead up to the end of periods is called perimenopause. Occurring around age 51, some women start to experience this change in their 40s or even earlier.
Symptoms of Menopause
Prior to their last period, most women experience symptoms that can last for several years. Perimenopause is often characterized by irregular periods that match the name, as they can be more or less frequent, last more or fewer days, and be heavier or lighter. Other symptoms include hot flashes, sleeping problems, mood changes, vaginal and urinary tract infections, and more.
Not all women experience the full range of symptoms, while many of the symptoms themselves accompany getting older as well as the end of fertility. The best way to determine whether the symptoms are a sign of menopause is to have your doctor check the amount of hormones in your blood. Unfortunately, the tests cannot absolutely predict when your cycle will end.
Behavioral Methods for Managing Menopause
For women who experience severe symptoms of menopause, there are a variety of behavioral and pharmacological solutions to help manage the problem. Often, temporary lifestyle changes can do the trick. Getting more sleep on a regular schedule, keeping active and exercising are key to relieving many symptoms. Proper diet and limiting caffeine and alcohol also help.
Drugs to Manage Menopause
For women who need additional help to manage the symptoms, there are several other approaches that include:
Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT)
Formally called hormone replacement therapy (HRT), menopausal hormone therapy or MHT involves taking doses of estrogen and, if the uterus is still in place, progesterone. These hormones can reduce hot flashes and night sweats, mood swings, vaginal symptoms, and bone loss.
The downside is that treatment with MHT can increase chances of breast cancer, stroke, heart attack, blood clots, and gallbladder disease. While your doctor will suggest the best course of hormonal replacement for you, the general rule is to prescribe the product at the lowest dose for the shortest period of time.
Bio-identical Hormone Therapy (BHT)
Some doctors prescribe man-made hormones that replicate what the body makes, either as a standard dose or as one especially made for the patient. Some are FDA approved and are covered by insurance, while others are considered experimental. Proponents of BHT maintain that the man-made hormones are safer than conventional hormones, and can help lessen the risk for certain diseases, such as breast cancer. Most of these claims are in dispute.
As an alternative, many women take herbs such as soy or other sources of progesterone such as wild yam, dong quoi, valerian root, or black cohosh. While these can be effective, make sure to discuss what you are taking with your doctor to make sure there is no harmful reaction when taking other drugs.
If you are approaching the normal menopausal age are experiencing any of the related symptoms, the healthcare professionals at Rocky Mountain Women’s Health Center can suggest ways to manage your symptoms of menopause.