Menopause

Key Challenge Women Face in Mid-Life

Menopause Health Concerns

Menopause is a Difficult Health Concern for Women, but there is Treatment

Every woman must go through this challenging time at mid-life. The challenge women face stems from the symptoms they encounter. When estrogen and other hormone levels decline, women find themselves tired and fatigued to the point of debilitation, having hot flashes and night sweats, feeling moody and with a low sex drive and libido. These are just some of the symptoms associated with Menopause.

What is Menopause?

Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when menstruation ceases and reproduction can no longer occur. It’s a normal and natural process for women and can be expected around the time of middle age, roughly 35 – 55 years. The average age for complete cessation of menstruation is 51.

Menopause is defined as the final period. The diagnosis is confirmed when a woman misses her period for 12 consecutive months. Perimenopause is considered the time between a woman’s first period to her last.

During menopause, hormone levels, especially estrogen, drop, causing many different symptoms that a woman must overcome. Sometimes they’re so debilitating that it’s difficult for a woman to function: work and home responsibilities tend to lax, as the woman feels too sick.

Body Changes During Menopause

Every woman’s experience with menopause is different, especially if it occurs naturally, if happens early or if it is induced due to health reasons. In these cases, specialized care is necessary. Some women only experience irregular periods during the perimenopause phase, while others also experience hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats. It’s comforting for women to know that these bodily changes are perfectly normal and natural.

What are Hot Flashes?

The most common symptom of menopause and the one most often complained about is the hot flash, where you get a sudden overwhelming feeling of being hot, your face and neck gets red, and you start sweating profusely. Although its uncertain as to the cause of hot flashes, its thought that they are caused by changes in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature. If the hypothalamus mistakenly perceives the body as being too warm, a chain of events occurs resulting in the hot flash to cool you down. First, the blood vessels near the surface of the skin begin to dilate (enlarge), which increases blood flow to the surface. This is your body’s attempt to get rid of body heat. It can cause your face and neck to turn red and you may start to sweat to cool the body down. Your pulse rate may go up and you could get a sensation of a rapid heartbeat. Oftentimes, the hot flash is followed by a cold chill. Only some women experience only the chill.

Hot flashes usually go away on their own, but sometimes treatment is necessary. When treatment is administered, hot flashes typically dissipate.

What is the Treatment for Hot Flashes?

Treatment for hot flashes depends on how severe they are, how they are impacting the quality of your life, your personal philosophy and preferences, and your overall health. Treatment usually involves lifestyle changes, non-prescription remedies, and prescription therapies. The only therapy approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada for treating hot flashes is systemic estrogen therapy.

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Should Dietary Supplements be used to Treat Menopause?

Natural remedies that are sold as dietary supplements are thought to be helpful for menopause symptoms, but in reality, they can hurt more than they can help. One thing dietary supplements don’t come with is a Patient Package Insert, something found in all prescription medications. The insert has information such as how to take a drug safely, identify its negative side effects, and avoid potentially dangerous interactions with other drugs.

If you choose to use dietary supplements, be sure to consult with your doctor before taking them. You also want to use brands that have been tested in clinical trials.

Insomnia Due to Menopause

Many women experience sleep disturbances or insomnia during the time of menopause. Sleep becomes inadequate enough so that you can’t function normally during waking hours. You’ll feel tired and fatigued and have little ability to perform tasks the way you used to in your younger years. If you’re experiencing sleep disturbances, seek the advice from your doctor who will first rule out sleep disorders, such as thyroid abnormalities, allergies, anemia, restless leg, depression, or sleep apnea (breathing problems). Once sleep disorders have been ruled out, your doctor can treat your insomnia due to menopause.

Moodiness and Depression Due to Menopause

There are few research studies that support the belief that real clinical depression, severe anxiety and erratic behavior occur due to menopause. However, many women report being tearful, moody and feeling down and blue during this difficult phase in their lives.

These symptoms are thought to be the result of poor sleep and night sweats that occur during menopause. Hormonal fluctuations may cause women to feel out of control because they have gotten used to their hormonal changes before menopause. Now in menopause, women can’t predict how they are going to feel during the course of day. This can cause irritability and uncertainty, resulting in extreme emotions.

The first step to taking control of your emotions is learning coping skills and making lifestyle changes. If this is not enough, you’ll need to consult with your doctor to determine if these symptoms may be a side effect of medication, a symptom of a medical condition, or the result of clinical depression or anxiety.

Headaches

Research shows that headaches in women who are experiencing menopause are due to hormonal changes. Women at the greatest risk for these headaches are those who experienced hormonal headaches around the time of their period. The headaches associated with menopause can easily be treated with over-the-counter pain medications. But if they’re severe enough, like with migraines, prescription medication may be necessary.

Memory Loss

There is no clear evidence that memory loss is directly linked to menopause. Research suggests that memory loss could be the result from the sleep disturbances and hot flashes that occur at night (night sweats). If you’re concerned about memory loss and poor concentration, seek help from your medical provider.

Feminine Dryness

One-third of women experience problems such as vaginal discharge, irritation, burning, dryness, itchiness, and pain (both with and outside of sexual activity) in the vulvovaginal area (external female genitals and vagina) during the course of their lives. Although these symptoms could be the result of low estrogen and other hormones, it should not be assumed that they are caused by menopause. You should first consult with a doctor who can determine the cause and then treat you accordingly.