What Every Woman Should Know About Menopause

Menopause is a normal stage of life for women, just like adolescence and puberty. At menopause, the ovaries stop making the female hormone, estrogen, which helps control the menstrual cycle.  According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, the average age that women go through menopause is 51, but many women begin to skip periods in their 40s. This is a sign of perimenopause, when the amount of estrogen begins to fluctuate and changes in the menstrual cycle start to occur leading to lighter or heavier periods. Menopause is considered a full year without a period indicating the end of a woman’s reproductive years.

Some of the most common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause include:

  • hot flashes
  • sleep problems
  • night sweats
  • vaginal and urinary tract changes.

These can range from mild to more severe. As men and women age and after 35, bone loss is normal. Following menopause, women lose bone density more rapidly, due to lower levels of estrogen. This increases their risk of osteoporosis, which increases the risk of bone fractures.

For many women, hormone replacement therapy can help relieve the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. The hormones can include estrogen and progestin or estrogen only for women who have had a hysterectomy.  Hormone therapy can be taken in the form of a pill, skin patch, gel or spray.  There are benefits and risks to hormone therapy which can vary based on an individual’s medical history. It’s important to discuss the pros and cons with your healthcare provider before making a decision that is right for you.

Other relief options for menopause symptoms include plant and herbal supplements such as soy, black cohosh and Chinese herbal remedies. Since only a few studies have been done and the way they are made is not regulated, safety and effectiveness of their use could be a concern.

For women who experience painful sexual intercourse during menopause, there are over the counter products such as moisturizers and lubricants, which do not contain any hormones. They can be used as needed.

To stay healthy during and after menopause, these three habits are your best bet:

  • Eating a balanced diet with calcium and vitamin D to maintain strong bones
  • Getting regular exercise to help slow down bone loss, including weight-bearing activities, such as walking and strength training
  • Getting routine health care exams and tests – so if any health issues arise, early detection can help address problems early

Of course, limiting stress is recommended at every stage of life. It can help you prepare for and manage life’s ups and downs even better.

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