Menopause. The word alone can bring on emotions of fear, sadness, and anxiety. That is understandable when the list of symptoms is long and can include things like hot flushes up to 50 times a day; erratic and unpredictable vaginal bleeding; weight gain; loss of muscle mass; anxiety and depression; acne; brain fog; difficulty sleeping; vaginal dryness and painful intercourse; increase in urinary tract infections; decreased libido; increased risk of cardiovascular disease; and osteoporosis. But just like any other challenge and turning point in life, things can be worse when you don’t prepare for the journey. Women should think of menopause as a transition period much like puberty. Many of us remember that stage being filled with bothersome symptoms such as rapid changes in our bodies, menstrual irregularities, acne, moodiness, and anxiety.
Menopause is marked by the last menstrual period. This occurs when a woman’s ovaries have stopped making follicles which release eggs. The time leading up to the last period, called the premenopause or menopause transition, is wrought with many hormonal changes. These hormonal changes can cause many symptoms that for 75% of women can negatively affect quality of life to some extent. On average, perimenopausal symptoms last for 7 years.
It is important to note that menopause is NOT a disease. It is the start of a new phase in a woman’s life and should be celebrated! In fact, menopause may exist in humans because of the evolutionarily beneficial role that grandmothers have had on the survival of their offspring and grandchildren (read more about the “grandmother hypothesis”). The survival of women well past menopause meant they were able to assist in the survival and longevity of their offspring and ensure the survival of their genes. The true narrative is very different than what we tend to hear today – that aging women are not as valuable to society.
I have discussions about menopause with my patients on a weekly basis. One of the most important things I have learned about menopause is that knowledge is empowering. Some women find relief in various treatments for their most bothersome symptoms, while other women feel relief in just knowing what is happening and why, and that the menopause transition is temporary.
Here are 5 things I recommend to my patients as they approach the menopause transition:
- Prepare for changes to come by optimizing your physical health (work on sleep hygiene, quit smoking, lower personal risks for blood pressure and diabetes, exercise with a focus on muscle building, reduce or eliminate alcohol intake) and mental health (meditation, improve life balance, seek therapy for guidance on healthy ways to manage stress).
- Become informed about and explore treatment options, including hormone replacement therapy.
- Mitigate your risks for cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
- Do not assume all symptoms are due to menopause, as there are other medical conditions that can mimic menopause symptoms and may need attention.
- Find a doctor who you can trust, who is experienced in menopause, and who will listen to you!
While menopause can be a challenge, there are many resources to help you navigate this new phase of life with confidence and grace.Author Bio:Shaghayegh DeNoble, MD, FACOG