Menopause, for women, is a lot like death and taxes. It will happen to every woman sometime in their adult life, whether naturally or surgically. Menopause is inevitable! After you loudly groan, now think about embracing this part of your life. Just like every other part of a woman’s life, you can be prepared and gracefully march through menopause with dignity and confidence….. Usually!
Menopause is not a disease, so maybe it is more about how we look at this transition in life. Christiane Northrop in “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” points out that menopause is a natural life change which marks a time when women move into positions of power and wisdom in many culture. Is this the fact in the US? Unfortunately, our culture leans heavily on advertising. Some messages that advertising is sending about menopause: secrecy, shame, medicalization, end of sexuality, a disease-state.
Aging Between the Sexes
It is important to remember that women are not the only ones to experience changes as they age. It is true women only experience hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Probably because…… MEN DON’T HAVE VAGINAS!!(Earth shattering news, right?) BUT, men do experience changes in urination, sexual desire, skin, appetite, metabolism and weight loss. Most midlife changes are really not related to menopause, but the natural changes of aging. Menopause is often blamed for everything. At midlife, a lifetime of poor health habits and stress can catch up with us.
The Perimenopausal Journey
Perimenopause, which is the transition to menopause, usually lasts on average 3.5 years. This phase often occurs somewhere between 45-55 years of age. It can begin earlier or later, and often your experiences can be much like your mother. So, first ask her about going through menopause. That can be a clue of what you have to look forward to, but there are things you can do to prepare for menopause.
Symptoms of menopause for many are often transient and even unnoticed. Others can have a more difficult time during the transitions. Here are some signs to look for:
Mood swings Insomnia Heavy bleeding or Skipped Cycles
Hot flashes Mood swings Increased PMS
Fluid retention Fuzzy thinking Headaches
When Am I Officially Menopausal?
The basic definite of menopause is one year without a menstrual cycle. If you go 11 mos. and 29 days and have another menstrual cycle – You are still perimenopausal. While many women what labs drawn, more than anything they want validation of their symptoms. Hormonal labs, like FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone), will show some changes – but they will not tell you when your symptoms will end. So, in my opinion, they are not very helpful. A listening ear and maybe a shoulder to cry on can be more beneficial. I haven’t cried on too many physicians’ shoulders. It may be helpful to seek out a menopause specialist. This may be a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant with special training in menopause and women’s health. I recommend talking to your health care provider for a referral to one of these special people, if you are experiencing a lot of symptoms of menopause.
Estrogen – It Is A Wonderful Thing
Menopausal symptoms occur usually due to the change of estrogen production during this time in a woman’s life. So, what does estrogen do in the pre-menopausal woman? Estrogen protects bone density, helps in cardiovascular health, helps maintain mental balance, and also helps to maintain normal sleep patterns. While your body does not entirely quit producing estrogen, it greatly decreases the production when your ovaries cease in function.
What To Do For The Obnoxious Symptoms of Menopause
1) Hot flashes and night sweats:
a) Stay cool—dress in layers, drink water, and buy a fan
b) Avoid triggers—stress, hot temps, hot food and alcoholic drinks
c) Deep breathing—6-8 breaths / min
d) Exercise, eat a healthy diet, weight control – check out my previous blog on my Top 5 Healthy Habits
2) Low libido
a) Embrace this time of changing sexuality
b) Let go of shame
c) Talk to your partner and health care provider
3) Vaginal and urinary changes
a) Kegel and other exercises http://www.nafc.org/stress-incontinence/index.php?page=pelvic-muscle-exercises&gclid=CNHfr_zw0asCFQFS7AoddmY2Tw
b) Replens – http://replens.com/FAQ/FAQ_Relief.aspx
c) Low dose estriol cream – talk to your health care provider
I think a good healthy diet, good health and exercise are the keys to gracefully making the transition into menopause. I would encourage you to embrace this time, and girls if you are not there yet…. menopause is coming! Every day you are one day closer to menopause. Menopause, death and taxes – it will happen to every woman!!
My next blog post will look at the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy – who is appropriate and who is not. Also, some natural hormone replacement therapy and my thoughts on bio identical hormones!!