Menopause is a natural part of aging. If you live long enough, every woman will go through menopause. (The average age for onset is 51.5, but you can easily start symptoms ten years on either side of that number.) The years leading up to this point are called perimenopause, or “around menopause”. Changes begin when the ovaries start making less estrogen. This is generally a gradual change over several years, but if you have your ovaries surgically removed, this may trigger severe symptoms. That’s why many women who have their ovaries removed choose to take hormones. However, for women who have a hysterectomy but keep their ovaries, their periods end but they do not immediately experience menopause. They go through menopause at the normal age. Changing periods is just one of the symptoms of menopause. If you’re experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed here, please make an appointment and we’ll talk about what we can do to help make your symptoms more bearable. Hot Flashes This is the most common symptom of menopause. About 75% of all women experience them. In a hot flash, a sudden feeling of heat rushes to the upper body and face. The skin may redden like a blush. You also make break out in a sweat. It may only last a few seconds or minutes and can happen any time, day or night. The good news is, even though a hot flash can be a nuisance and sometimes embarrassing, it’s really not harmful.
Sleep Problems and Night Sweats A lack of sleep may be one of the biggest problems you face as you approach menopause. Too little sleep can affect your mood, health and ability to cope with daily activities. One of the reasons you can’t sleep is if you’re woken up by night sweats (basically, hot flashes at night). Another is if you don’t get enough REM sleep (that’s the stage of sleep where you dream). If you’re cut short on REM sleep, you can wake up without feeling rested. Also, you may have trouble falling asleep in the first place.
Irregular Bleeding The most obvious ones are changes in your period. You may skip one or more periods. The flow may be lighter or heavier. You may even bleed after sex or between periods. Eventually, the ovaries will fail to make enough estrogen to thicken the lining of the uterus and your menstrual period will stop.
Vaginal Dryness This loss of estrogen causes changes in the vagina. Its lining can become thin and dry. These changes can cause pain during sexual intercourse. They can also make the vagina more prone to infection, which can cause burning and itching.
Mood Swings Menopause doesn’t cause sudden mood swings or depression. But the change in hormone levels may make you feel nervous, irritable or very tired. This can be made worse by lack of sleep, another symptom of menopause. If you are under other stresses, such as work stress, watching your kids leave the nest or taking care of your aging parents, this can only further lower your frustration tolerance. If you need other strategies or help coping with this change, feel free to make an appointment and we’ll give you some options.
As you enter menopause, it’s common for the bones to thin. This can lead to a greater risk of fractures, especially in the wrist, back and hip. So how can you find out how strong your bones are? By having a simple, painless DEXA scan test from OBGYN West. Within minutes, you can find out if thinning bones is a problem for you and, if so, you can work with our doctor to put together a plan of diet, exercise and, if necessary, medication to help ward off osteoporosis.
Estrogen Therapy: Good or Bad? As women age and their ovaries close shop, this lack of estrogen plays a dramatic role in the changes they experience. For some people, the use of hormone replacement therapy has become controversial. But for many, estrogen is still a medication that can dramatically enhance the quality of their lives. Therefore, the choice to use estrogen for hormone replacement is a personal decision based on family history (e.g., whether you smoke or have a family history of breast cancer). The only way to determine if this type of therapy is right for you is to sit down with a doctor you trust. We invite you to make an appointmentand discuss this important topic with one of our doctors.