Slideshow: All About Menopause and Perimenopause

Slideshow: All About Menopause and Perimenopause

Menopause is the process a woman goes through that causes her periods to end. It’s a turning point, not a disease, but it can have a big impact on a woman’s well-being. Although menopause can bring physical discomfort from hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms, it can also be the start of a new and rewarding phase of a woman’s life — and a golden opportunity to guard against major health risks like heart disease and osteoporosis.

Age is the leading cause of menopause. It’s the end of a woman’s childbearing years, brought on by the ovaries gradually slowing down. Certain surgeries and medical treatments can also cause menopause. Those include surgical removal of the ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy), chemotherapy, and pelvic radiation therapy. Having a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) without removing the ovaries does not lead to menopause, although you will not have periods anymore.

On average, women in the U.S. are 51 at natural menopause, notes the National Institute on Aging. But menopause can start earlier or later. A few women start menopause as young as 40, and a very small percentage as late as 60. Women who smoke tend to go through menopause a few years earlier than nonsmokers. There is no proven way to predict menopause age. It’s only after a woman has missed her periods for 12 straight months, without other obvious causes, that menopause can be confirmed. There are tests that can check your ovaries and spot a decrease in fertility.

Natural menopause happens gradually. The ovaries don’t abruptly stop working, they slow down over time. The transition to menopause is called perimenopause. Menopause is a milestone — it’s the day that marks 12 months in a row since a woman’s last period. During perimenopause, it’s still possible to get pregnant — a woman’s childbearing years are winding down, and although her periods may become more unpredictable, her ovaries are still working and she still may ovulate, though not always monthly.

Menopause isn’t a one-size-fits-all event. It affects each woman differently. Some women reach natural menopause with little to no trouble. Others have severe symptoms. And when menopause starts suddenly as a result of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, the adjustment can be tough. Here is a look at menopausal symptoms that many women have, though the intensity can vary.

As menopause approaches, a woman’s menstrual periods will likely change. But those changes can vary from woman to woman — periods may get shorter or longer, heavier or lighter, with more or less time between periods. Such changes are normal, but the National Institute on Aging recommends seeing a doctor if your periods come very close together, if you have heavy bleeding or spotting, or if your periods last more than a week.

Hot flashes (or hot flushes) are common. It’s a brief feeling of heat that may make the face and neck flushed and cause temporary red blotches to appear on the chest, back, and arms. Sweating and chills may follow. Hot flashes vary in intensity and typically last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. Dressing in light layers, using a fan, getting regular exercise, avoiding spicy foods and heat, and managing stress may help you deal with hot flashes.

Nighttime hot flashes can hamper sleep and cause night sweats. Try these sleep tips:

Less estrogen can lead to vaginal dryness, itching, and irritation, which may make intercourse uncomfortable or painful. Try using a water-based lubricant. Your desire may go up or down, but many things besides menopause — including stress, medications, depression, poor sleep, and relationship problems — affect sex drive. Talk to your doctor if you have sex problems — don’t settle for a so-so sex life. And remember, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) don’t end with menopause. You still need to use protection.

If menopause symptoms are a problem, talk with your doctor. She can help you weigh the pros and cons of treatment options such as hormone replacement therapy. Other treatments include low-dose birth control pills if you’re perimenopausal; antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, or other medications to help with hot flashes; and vaginal estrogen cream. Your doctor may also have lifestyle tips about adjusting your diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management.

Hormone replacement therapy can ease some menopausal symptoms. Various prescription products are available to treat hot flashes and vaginal symptoms. The FDA recommends taking the lowest dose that helps, and only for the shortest time because studies have linked long-term use of hormone replacement therapy to a greater risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, and breast cancer.

“Bioidentical hormone therapy” for menopausal symptoms can refer to FDA-approved prescription drugs. Or it can refer to custom-compounded hormones made at compounding pharmacies mixed according to a doctor’s instructions. These may have two or three types of estrogen, often mixed with other hormones. Some doctors claim that compounded bioidentical hormones are safer. The FDA’s advice — take the lowest dose for the shortest time — applies to bioidentical hormone therapy. Custom-compounded bioidentical products aren’t FDA approved.

Interested in trying alternative or complementary treatments for menopause symptoms? According to the National Institutes of Health, there hasn’t been a lot of well-designed research on this topic, so the research isn’t firm enough to draw conclusions about treatments such as black cohosh, dong quai, red clover (shown here), and soy. Talk it over with your doctor, and tell him about any supplements you take so he can check on drug interactions.

With menopause comes a greater chance of heart disease (which is the No. 1 cause of death for U.S. women) and osteoporosis (thinning bones, seen here). Loss of hormones may play a role in heart disease after menopause, but hormone replacement therapy is not recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke. Of course, heart and bone health is important throughout a woman’s life, but menopause means it’s really time to step up and get serious about it if you haven’t already.

Living a healthy lifestyle is important throughout a woman’s life. And it’s not too late to start at menopause. Get a checkup that includes measuring your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar and make appointments for vaccinations and routine screenings such as mammograms and bone density. Menopause is also a great time to upgrade your diet, physical activity, and stress management skills — your doctor can give you pointers as you work together to plan for a healthy menopause.

One of the smartest things a woman can do as she transitions to menopause and afterward is to get regular physical activity. That includes aerobic exercise for her heart and weight-bearing exercise for her bones — both of which may help ward off weight gain and provide a mood boost. Even if a woman hasn’t been very active in her younger years, it’s never too late to start. Menopause is a new beginning and the perfect time to weave more activity into your life.

Western culture has long been obsessed with youth. But today’s postmenopausal women are making the most of — and even celebrating — their new phase of life. Instead of looking back mournfully, Christiane Northrup, MD, recommends using it as a time to redefine yourself with positive thoughts, love yourself, explore what brings you pleasure, and revive (not retire) your sex life.

Sources
|

Medically Reviewed on 07/24/2018

Reviewed by Brunilda

Nazario, MD on July 24, 2018

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Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Health Center.
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Women’s Health Initiative.
Wulf Utian, MD, PhD, consultant in women’s health, Cleveland Clinic; executive director emeritus, North American Menopause Society.

Reviewed by Brunilda

Nazario, MD on July 24, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

View our slideshows to learn more about your health.

© 2005 – 2018 WebMD LLC. All rights reserved.

WebMD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

See additional information.

Slideshow: All About Menopause and Perimenopause

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10 Ways to Deal With Menopause Symptoms

10 Ways to Deal With Menopause Symptoms

Keep a diary to track what sets off your hot flashes. Caffeine? Alcohol? A hot room? Stress? All are common causes. When a flash starts, take slow, deep breaths, in your nose and out your mouth. For tough cases, talk to your doctor.

At night, hot flashes can go on for 3 minutes or more, leaving you drenched in sweat and unable to sleep. But there are ways to keep your cool. Trade the heavy flannels for light PJs. Put a bag of frozen peas under your pillow. Flip the pillow through the night and put your face on the cool side. Choose layers of light blankets over one thick quilt. Use a bedside fan to keep air moving.

Yoga, tai chi, and meditation can help you get shut-eye, research shows. Any exercise can make a difference — just stop 3 hours before bedtime. Skip a nightcap, since alcohol will wake you up later. Sip warm milk instead. It has a substance in it that can help you relax. Still up? Get out of bed and read until sleepy. If you still have trouble, talk to your doctor about short-term sleep aids.

Hormone changes leave the vagina thinner and dryer, which can make sex painful. Lucky for you, lots of products can help. Try nonprescription, water-based vaginal lubricants or vaginal moisturizer. You can also ask your doctor about prescription vaginal creams or rings, or prescription pills for dryness and painful sex. The more sex you’re able to have, the better for blood flow, which keeps things healthy down there.

Make more time for sex. Try massage and foreplay, too. Use erotica and new-for-you sex routines as ways to build desire. Hormone changes are a main cause, but other things that zap your sex drive can strike at the same time. Ask your doctor about poor sleep, bladder trouble, or feeling depressed or stressed.

It’s like PMS, only amped up — crying jags, happy happies, cranky crankies. These are common for women around the time of menopause. And if you had bad PMS, the hormonal changes that happen during this time may cause even bigger mood swings. Yoga and tai chi can help here, too. So can doing fun things with friends or family. Your doctor may suggest a low-dose birth control pill, antidepressants, and alternative treatments for mood changes.

Migraines can get worse at or around the time of menopause, or show up for the first time. Keep a diary to see what seems to trigger them and if they show up along with hot flashes. That way you can take steps to lessen them. Eating small meals through the day can help if hunger is a headache trigger. Lack of sleep is another one, so nap if your nights are messed up. Treatments vary. Some can prevent migraines. Others may make them less frequent or severe. Talk with your doctor.

Hair can thin or shed faster around the time of menopause. At the same time, it may show up where you don’t want it — on your chin and cheeks. To save what you have, switch to coloring products that don’t have harsh chemicals. Avoid the sun, which is drying. Got unwanted facial hair? Ask a skin doctor for to help wax, bleach, pluck, or zap it away.

You expect to have acne in your teens but not in your 50s. Surprise: It’s common around menopause, too. Make sure your moisturizer, sunscreen, cleanser, and other face products are gentle. Look for the words “oil free,” “won’t clog pores,” “noncomedogenic,” and “non-acnegenic.” Even tough cases can clear with time and a doctor’s help.

“Use it or lose it.” That simple phrase can help you fight fuzzy thinking and stay focused during menopause. Challenge your brain in new ways. Learn something new, like a hobby or language. Lower your stress level. Women with more hot flashes — which can be linked to stress — say they have more memory troubles.

Sources
|

Medically Reviewed on 11/10/2017

Reviewed by Traci

C.

Johnson, MD on November 10, 2017

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REFERENCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: “Adult Acne.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Menopause and Sex,” Menopause and Sleep Concerns.”
Drogos, L. Menopause, published online May 13, 2013.
FDA: “FDA Approves the first non-hormonal treatment for hot flashes associated with menopause.”
Greendale, G. Neurology, May 26, 2009.
Harvard Health Publications: “Dealing With the Symptoms of Menopause.”
International Dermal Institute: “How Does Menopause Affect the Skin?”
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Menopause Symptoms and Complementary Health Practices.”
National Health Service: “Hormone Headaches.”
National Sleep Foundation: “Menopause and Sleep.”
North American Menopause Society: “Depression & Menopause;” “FAQs: Body Changes & Symptoms;” “Five Solutions for Menopause Symptoms;” “Menonote: Treating Hot Flashes;” “Oh-My Migraine, Hormonal Headaches and Menopause;” Other Body Changes Affecting Sexuality;” and “Urinary Incontinence.”
WomensHealth.gov: “Menopause and Menopause Symptoms Fact Sheet.”

Reviewed by Traci

C.

Johnson, MD on November 10, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

View our slideshows to learn more about your health.

© 2005 – 2018 WebMD LLC. All rights reserved.

WebMD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

See additional information.

10 Ways to Deal With Menopause Symptoms

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