Submitted by Advanced Women’s Healthcare
The years leading up to menopause, which is defined as going 12 consecutive months without a period, is a natural stage of life and affects every woman differently. The average age of menopause is 51. That means that almost half of all women have their last period and reach menopause before that age, and some women may not have even started the transition. Common symptoms, such as irregular periods and hot flashes, can cause extreme discomfort for some women, while a lucky few sail through these years and hardly feel any different.
If menopausal symptoms are making you very uncomfortable, there are many things you can do to relieve the discomfort. Your treatment should be chosen based on your own symptoms and health risks. What your sister or friend does may not be the right choice for you. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you experience any troubling change in how you feel. Symptoms that might seem like the menopausal transition, even hot flashes, night sweats, and irregular periods, may have other causes.
Hot flashes or night sweats are probably the most common and also the most distressing symptom of menopause. Waking up several times a night drenched in sweat and experiencing sudden periods of intense “burning” during the day are far more than minor annoyances. If hot flashes or night sweats are interfering with your daily activities, you need to seek relief. Following are some simple practical steps you can try first:
- Sleep in a very cool room, however, this can be difficult if there are other members in the household.
- A fan next to your bed, pajamas that wick away moisture, lightweight and breathable bed linens, and cooling gel pillows are strategies that may help.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol — especially before bed.
- Wear layers of clothing during the day made of light, breathable fabrics.
- Keep ice chips or ice water with you.
- Exercise is proven to help cope with flashes as well as promote better sleep. If you don’t already have a regular exercise regimen, this would be a good reason to start.
- Some women find that deep, slow breathing is helpful.
- If you are overweight, losing weight will help reduce hot flashes.
- Consider writing down what you were doing or eating just before a hot flash started. This might reveal some triggers for your hot flashes which you could then try to avoid.
If the above steps don’t help, your doctor may recommend Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT), formerly known as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). MHT is a more current, umbrella term that describes several different hormone combinations available in a variety of forms and doses. Estrogen is the most effective medicine approved by the FDA for hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Estrogen alone can be prescribed for a woman who no longer has her uterus, but estrogen with progesterone or a progestin (a progesterone-like medicine) is needed for a woman with a uterus to protect the lining of the uterus to lower the chance of unwanted endometrial thickening and of endometrial cancer, an uncommon, but possible risk of using estrogen alone.
Estrogen and progesterone/progestin come in many different forms — pills, creams, or skin patches, for example — and a variety of types and doses. Most women find that MHT relieves their menopausal symptoms, however, there are certain side effects and risks. MHT should be used at the lowest dose that relieves symptoms for the shortest time needed. MHT can be confusing, and it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all type of treatment. The benefits and risks of MHT are different for each woman, which is why it is extremely important to work closely with your doctor to find the best approach for you.
This is the third in a series of articles on menopause. If you missed previous articles on peri-menopause and symptoms, you may read it online at HealthyCellsBN.com or call Cheryl at 309-664-2524 to request a copy.
Next Month: Is Menopausal Hormone Therapy right for you?
Dele Ogunleye, M.D., and Lisa Emm, M.D., provide a full range of obstetric and gynecologic services. Brittany King is an advanced practice nurse specializing in women’s health. She works alongside Dr. Ogunleye and Dr. Emm to provide a full range of obstetric and gynecologic services. You may contact them at Advanced Women’s Healthcare, 309-808-3068 or www.awhcare.com. The office is located at 2111 East Oakland Avenue (Next to the Jewel-Osco Plaza).