Understanding the phases of menopause and changes that go along with them
Menopause is the milestone a woman achieves when her ovaries no longer release eggs and she stops menstruating. Menopause can occur naturally with age, or as a result of surgical removal of the ovaries.
Menopausal symptoms may arise around age 45 and last for several years. This period of transition is referred to as perimenopause. During this time, women may experience a variety of symptoms, including:
· Mild warm flashes or hot flashes with profuse sweating
· Poor sleep quality
· Anxiety, mood swings, depression
· Brain fogginess
· Weight gain or fat redistribution to the abdominal area
· Vaginal dryness and pain with sex
The average age of menopause – defined as the absence of a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months – is 51 years. However, women may start the transition earlier, between ages 40 and 45, or experience “premature menopause” before age 40.
One of the most common and disruptive symptoms of menopause is hot flashes. This happens when changes in hormone levels cause a feeling of intense warmth that can appear suddenly or slowly. Hot flashes can be as mild as feeling flushed or severe enough to cause sweating that wakes you from a sound sleep, also known as “night sweats.” Most hot flashes last 30 seconds to five minutes.
Managing and treating menopause symptoms
Lifestyle changes involving diet and activity level, medications, and over-the-counter treatments can help manage menopause symptoms and ensure better health afterwards. These include:
· Nutrition: A diet low in caffeine, alcohol, sodium, and saturated fats is recommended for optimizing blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight. It is important to ensure adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D to maintain good bone density.
· Exercise: Regular exercise helps with heart health, muscle and bone health, weight management, and stress reduction.
· Mindfulness-based techniques: Yoga, meditation, and cognitive behavioral therapy greatly improve and stabilize mood and a sense of well-being. They can also be helpful in reducing the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
· Manage your health: There’s no bad time to quit or cut back on nicotine use!
· Hormone replacement: Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may provide symptom relief and offer added benefits for bone health. It’s important to speak with your doctor about HRT, and there are important risks to consider.
· Antidepressants: Studies show that some antidepressants can provide effective improvement in mood and anxiety.
Newport Women’s Health has a team of experts who can help women prepare for their menopause journey. We are available to answer questions and develop individualized treatment plans to manage symptoms. The providers work together to deliver gentle, respectful, and individualized care and guidance for women of all ages, from adolescence through menopause, and beyond.
It is important for women to continue with annual gynecologic exams even after menopause. We can help you stay up-to-date on the full spectrum of women’s health and preventative screenings. We invite all women to be active participants in their health care choices, and to discuss any changes or health concerns they might have.
Emily Blosser, MD, PhD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist with Newport Women’s Health, a Lifespan Physician Group practice. Health Matters appears monthly on newportri.com and in The Newport Daily News.
This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Menopause phases and changes that go along with them: Health Matters