Menopause symptoms and treatments
If you’re hot and moody and you aren’t menstruating, you might be in menopause. Before menopause, you go through perimenopause. Your body begins to make less estrogen — the hormone that creates female characteristics. There’s no exact time when perimenopause happens. It usually appears between your 30s and 40s.
Once your ovaries stop releasing eggs, you’re in menopause. Menopause means you have reached the point in your life when your periods stop and you can’t become pregnant.
What causes menopause?
Menopause is a natural part of aging. Your ovaries make estrogen and progesterone. These substances allow you to menstruate, ovulate and get pregnant. Eventually, your ovaries stop releasing eggs and stop making estrogen. Your period ends and menopause begins.
You may be in premature menopause if you go into menopause in your 40s. You might have inherited the condition. Or, you might have an immune system disorder. You may have premature menopause if you go through chemotherapy for cancer or need to have your uterus or ovaries removed in surgery.
Symptoms of menopause
There are many symptoms that let you know you’re in menopause. These symptoms signal that your ovaries are making less estrogen. During perimenopause, you may have erratic periods and worse premenstrual syndrome symptoms. When you reach menopause, you’ll likely have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Dry skin
- General aches and pains
- Hair loss or thinning
- High blood pressure
- Hot flashes and flushes
- Low libido
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain
These symptoms may come and go during menopause. Every woman’s menopause lasts for a different length of time. Some women go through a few years of menopause. Others may go through a few months of these symptoms before they ease and post-menopause comes.
Diagnosis of menopause
Your symptoms let you know when you’re in menopause. You can also get a diagnosis by having blood tests to check your hormone levels. The hormones doctors test include follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen/estradiol and your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). This checks for an underactive thyroid. During menopause, your FSH levels rise and your estrogen levels lower.
Treatments for menopause
If you have severe menopausal symptoms, there’s help. These are some of the additional treatments available and their effects:
- Antidepressants help with moodiness.
- Drugs like gabapentin reduce hot flashes.
- Blood pressure drugs help lower your blood pressure.
- Vaginal estrogen cream makes intercourse more comfortable.
- Low-dose birth control pills safely add hormones to ease symptoms.
- Lifestyle adjustments to your diet, exercise and sleep may ease symptoms.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is risky, but it may ease most symptoms.
- Bioidentical hormone therapy that’s made to mimic your natural hormones, may be a safer option to ease symptoms.
You may be interested in alternative treatments to ease menopausal symptoms. There are herbs, supplements and oils that may help you through menopause. Talk to your doctor to make sure treatments won’t interfere or interact with each other.
During menopause, your doctor may want to check your bone density. There are no symptoms of weakening bones unless you fracture one. However, during menopause, you may be of greater risk for osteoporosis (thinning bones). Treatments, such as HRT or taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, may help keep your bones healthy and strong as you age.
Life in post-menopause
After you’ve gone without a period for 12 consecutive months, you’ve reached post-menopause. These are the years after menopause. During post-menopause you may not have disruptive menopausal symptoms. But you may be at risk for health conditions, including bone thinning and heart disease.
Learn to manage your menopause. Visit Mercy.com to make an appointment with a specialist for more information.