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Managing menopause

Published in Women's Services, OB/GYN Services, For the Health of It Author: Jamie Hammerbeck, MD

Menopause is the natural process women go through in their 40s to 50s as the ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone and fertility declines. A woman has reached menopause after she has not had a period (menstrual cycle) for 12 months. The process of menopause usually starts in the 40s, but can take months to years. The average age of a woman reaching menopause is 51.

The physical symptoms of menopause include:

  • Changes the menstrual cycle (shorter or longer, lighter or heavier, more or less time in between)
  • Hot flashes
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Night sweats
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Discomfort during intercourse
  • Increased joint pain
  • Mood swings

Here are a few tips for managing the common symptoms.

  • Always have pads or tampons on hand, especially when your cycle starts to change or become irregular. Keep them in your purse, vehicle, office and a supply at home.
  • Learn what triggers your hot flashes (caffeine, alcohol, spicy food, smoking, sugar, stress, hot weather, tight clothing) and do your best to avoid them. Dress in layers, lower the room temperature, when possible, and use a fan.
  • Maintain a regular bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. Relax before bed by reading, taking a bath, meditating or listening to music. Avoid exercise and screen time in the few hours before bed. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool.
  • Wear light clothes to bed. Use layered bedding that can be removed or added quickly. Use an electric fan to cool down. Bring an ice pack to bed that you can put under your pillow or at your feet. Have cool water available at your nightstand.
  • Continue Kegel exercises throughout your life. Wear a liner in your underwear.
  • Consider using a vaginal lubricant and moisturizer to help improve or maintain moisture. Vaginal estrogen also can be helpful. It is available as a cream, tablet or ring.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. Eat well, exercise and make time for relaxation and self care. If you are struggling with depression, talk to your health care provider.

Visit your health care provider regularly. Review your family and medical history and discuss your risks for breast cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis as you approach or go through menopause. Keeping notes about your cycle length, if it was light or heavy and the duration between cycles can be helpful information when discussing treatment options with your provider.

Talk to your provider if you bothered or concerned about any physical or emotional symptoms you are experiencing. If you have vaginal bleeding after menopause, be sure to bring that to your provider’s attention — as that can be a sign of other possible health problems.