If symptoms of menopause are negatively impacting your life, consider one of these treatment options.
Menopause treatment is not always necessary. Some women experience menopause with no problems at all. But for many, the symptoms of menopause can be plentiful and can range from mildly annoying to seriously interfering in a woman's life. Menopause symptoms include:
• Vaginal bleeding
• Night sweats
• Hot flashes
• Vaginal dryness
• Urinary problems
• Decreased sex drive
• Weight change
• Hair loss
• Mood swings
According to WomensHealth.gov, a woman begins perimenopause around the age of 45. During this stage, her body slows down the production of estrogen and progesterone. When a woman does not have a period for one year, she is in menopause. Because menopause is not a disease, there is no cure. However, there are a variety of treatments to help manage the symptoms of menopause.
Leading a healthy lifestyle is one way to cope with menopause symptoms and transition easily to this next stage of life. Exercise, a healthy diet, and limiting caffeine and alcohol minimize symptoms overall. But for more specific symptoms, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness and sleeping problems, there are additional remedies.
Doctors can treat hot flashes with short-term, low-dose hormone therapy. Antidepressants, high blood pressure medication and anti-seizure medicine may also be effective. Women can keep a diary to keep track of when the hot flashes occur and try to find ways to avoid the triggers if a pattern is identified. Dressing in layers that are easy to pull on and off can be helpful, as well as keeping a fan around.
Vaginal dryness can be a problem for women who are sexually active. A water-based lubricant, vaginal moisturizer or estrogen cream can improve this symptom.
Many menopausal women experience sleeping problems. Doctors say regular exercise of at least 30 minutes a day is helpful, although exercise close to bedtime can be too much stimulation and may lead to sleeplessness. Women should stay away from coffee in the afternoon. They should avoid napping during the day and should only crawl into bed at their usual time of sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, many younger women who seek help for insomnia are actually going through the precursor to menopause called perimenopause. Experts say women suffering from insomnia need to structure their sleep patterns by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. Avoiding alcohol, not smoking and keeping the bedroom at a cool temperature all help. Yoga and shiatsu can be beneficial for some women.
Memory problems are common complaints among menopausal women, but doctors say it is not caused by menopause. They believe it is simply the brain getting older. Still, menopausal women frequently say they have "fuzzy" thinking and trouble concentrating. The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, which works to improve women's health through research and education, suggests taking on new mental challenges, such as learning a new language or musical instrument, to help keep memory sharp.
Most women view the weight gain that often accompanies menopause as a quite unwelcome symptom. During perimenopause, women gain about a pound each year. Weight gain after menopause usually accumulates around the stomach. But doctors say menopause isn't the only culprit. As women age, they commonly exercise less and eat more. Genetics add to the problem. Women whose family members have excess fat around the abdomen are more likely to experience the same issue.
Some studies suggest an increase in breast cancer risk for women who gain weight after menopause, especially if the gain is more than 20 pounds. Extra weight also puts a menopausal woman at greater risk for stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, simply eating less and exercising more will help keep off the excess weight. Since menopausal women are prone to osteoporosis because of falling estrogen levels, it is important to make strength training a regular part of the exercise program.
For many women, mood swings and crying spells seem to be part of the menopausal package. And many times, these symptoms are triggered by other symptoms of menopause. For example, lack of sleep can lead to irritability. The North American Menopause Society, a nonprofit scientific organization, challenges women struggling with the emotional side effects of menopause to look at easy strategies to cope with stress, such as deep breathing exercises and finding time for self-nurturing activities.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, research shows that women in the perimenopausal stage are at greater risk for depression, and some doctors believe this is caused by the decreasing estrogen levels. Women who find themselves seriously depressed need to discuss the problem with their doctor and consider using antidepressant medication. In addition to helping with depression, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as venlafaxine (Effexor), fluoxetine (Prozac) paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft) can help with hot flashes.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), sometimes called menopausal hormone therapy (MHT), has been used for years to treat menopause symptoms but is now considered a controversial treatment. When menopause begins, a woman's ovaries slow down the production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. With HRT, a woman is given medications containing estrogen and progesterone to replace the ones her body is no longer producing. Since the lack of these two hormones is what causes the unpleasant side effects of menopause, such as vaginal dryness, mood swings and hot flashes, replacing them can stop these symptoms.
But in 2002, the National Institutes of Health published the results of a 15-year prevention study that was designed to research the most common causes of death, disability and decrease in life quality of post-menopausal women. Called the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), this study took a hard look at HRT. Doctors and researchers were surprised to learn that hormone therapy has more serious health risks than benefits for women.
About two-thirds of women on HRT stopped using it. The WHI showed that short-term use of HRT does not increase a woman's chances of heart disease if she begins it within 10 years of beginning menopause. However, for some women, HRT may increase the risk of blood clots, stroke, breast cancer and gallbladder disease, in addition to heart disease. HRT can sometimes have some unpleasant side effects, including bleeding, bloating, breast tenderness, headache and mood swings.
Currently, there is confusion among doctors and menopausal women when it comes to HRT. However, the National Institutes of Health still approves HRT for treating severe menopause symptoms, while cautioning women to discuss all the benefits and risks with their doctors.