Menopause is a part of every woman’s life, but treatment methods may vary based on your personal and family history, and desired comfort level. Roberta Renzelli-Cain, DO, is a board-certified WVU Medicine obstetrician and gynecologist and a certified menopause physician. In this article, Dr. Renzelli-Cain discusses menopausal symptoms, and provides tips to cope with hot flashes and mood swings.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a normal part of aging that occurs when a woman’s ovaries are no longer producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and she stops menstruating. A woman can experience menopause in her 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51.
What are the symptoms?
Many symptoms associated with menopause are temporary, but if symptoms regularly interfere with your quality of life, talk with your obstetrics and gynecology provider. You may begin to have the following symptoms in the months or years leading up to menopause (perimenopause): decreased libido, hot flashes, irregular periods, loss of breast fullness, mood swings, night sweats, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, weight gain, and a slow metabolism.
How are symptoms treated?
Since most women have different menopausal experiences, there is not one specific treatment method. Simple lifestyle changes may help diminish symptoms that are bothersome to you, and some symptoms will stop on their own. Lifestyle changes to reduce menopause symptoms may include:
Avoid triggers for hot flashes. Hot flashes (periods of strong heat, sweating, and warm skin) are caused by hormone changes in the body, and they are some of the most common menopausal problems. Try to identify what’s causing your hot flashes. Wear loose clothing as tight garments can cause them. Drink a glass of cold water. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, hot beverages, and spicy foods. Hot weather and even a warm room can bring on a hot flash. Use a fan at home or work. A low dose of an antidepressant medication, like fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), or venlafaxine (Effexor), may also be helpful for hot flashes.
Manage stress and seek treatment if needed. Practice relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, yoga, or massage, to help relieve menopausal symptoms, including mood swings. Many stress-reducing resources are available for free online. Talk with a behavioral medicine provider if you’re experiencing lasting mood symptoms that affect your daily routine.
Decrease vaginal discomfort. Many menopausal women experience pain during sex. Over-the-counter, water-based vaginal lubricants or moisturizers can help you be more comfortable. Avoid lubricants with glycerin in them as some women are sensitive to this chemical and may experience burning or irritation.
Get plenty of rest. Avoid drinking caffeine and too much alcohol, which can disrupt sleep. Exercise during the day, but not too close to bedtime since exercise may make it difficult to fall asleep. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Avoid napping during the day.
Talk with your doctor about hormone replacement treatment. If you're experiencing severe menopausal symptoms and lifestyle changes aren’t helping, hormone replacement treatment (HRT) may be needed. HRT uses estrogen and progesterone hormones to treat common symptoms of menopause and aging. Your doctor can inform you about the possible benefits and risks of HRT as it may increase your chances of cancer, heart attack, or stroke. Together, you can decide if HRT is right for you based on your age, medical history, and family history.
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