Keisha R. Callins, MD, MPH
Menopause describes the transition or “change of life” that women may experience around the time when menstrual cycles cease, marking the end of their ability to conceive. One full year of no menstrual cycles makes menopause official. These changes occur when the ovaries stop releasing eggs, and leads to a gradual decline in the hormones produced by the ovaries. This may also occur as a result of surgery that removes the ovaries, or medication that may affect the function of the ovaries. If your menopausal symptoms affect your quality of life or the quality of life of the people around you, it is not necessary to suffer unnecessarily. Reach out for help and take advantage of the available options to help you manage this natural process of your body.
Menopausal symptoms may occur before actual menopause and may persist long after. One of the most common symptoms, “hot flushes”, is often described as a sudden feeling of warmth that spreads over the body resulting in profuse sweating. Other common symptoms can include menstrual cycle irregularities (unpredictable or heavy or lasting more days), difficulty sleeping (stay unable to fall asleep or stay asleep), irritability (easily annoyed), fatigue (less interested in usual activities), changes in mood (variety of feelings occur throughout the day), changes in memory (forgetfulness), headaches (feeling tension in the head or more frequent migraines), changes with reproductive organs (vaginal dryness and itching, painful intercourse, decreased interest in intercourse), changes in bladder control (incontinence or frequent bladder infections), hair loss (increased shedding), weight gain (despite no change in diet), and increase in joint and muscle aches. Some women may have none, some, or all of the symptoms, and they may occur with the different intensity over time. If possible, it is a great idea to talk with the women in your family (mother, grandmother, sisters, and aunts) about their experience with menopause, to get a better idea of what the transition may be like for you.
Women should discuss their symptoms with a healthcare provider and a management plan should be individualized based on symptoms, medical and family history. Lifestyle changes should be discussed as a first line therapy and should include better nutrition, reduced alcohol and caffeine intake, increase exercise, quit smoking, massage, acupuncture, relaxation techniques. Natural supplements that may be helpful include herbal supplements (Red Clover, Don Quai, Evening Primrose Oil, Wild Yam, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Ginkgo Biloba, Black Cohosh, black seed oil), and vitamin supplements (B, D, E, Calcium, DHEA and magnesium). Medications include hormonal therapy (estrogen and progesterone); and medicines commonly used for other conditions such as depression (Effexor), hypertension (clonidine), seizures (Gabapentin); can be very helpful in managing menopausal symptoms.
Menopause is a lifetime milestone and marks a major transition in the function of the female body. It is important for women to appreciate and understand how this process affects their life, and to take the time to explore the many options for management based on their individual symptoms. It is important to discuss symptoms with a healthcare provider, and share information about medical history such as breast or uterine cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, or blood clots. This will help them to recommend the most appropriate lifestyle, natural, and medication therapies. It is also important for your family and friends to understand the transition, so they can provide the support you need.
Quote of the Month:
“When you learn, teach, when you get, give”
~ Maya Angelou ~