We explore an array of menopause symptoms you or a loved one might be experiencing and look at some of the most effective menopause treatment options to help deal with these.
It’s a sad fact that the menopause is something many women feel embarrassed about: often an unwanted sign of getting older, symptoms of the menopause can be inconvenient at best and debilitating at worst. That’s not to mention the sometimes unhelpful or dismissive attitudes that other people can take on, and clichéd euphemisms like ‘the change of life’ or simply ‘the change’. Whilst some women cope with the menopause without issue, many women struggle alone, unaware or unwilling to find out about the help that is available if they are not coping so well. However, there are plenty of menopause treatment options available out there, both physical and psychological, and all designed to help you!
The menopause is, quite simply, when a woman’s menstrual cycle ends and she stops being able to have children naturally. The ovaries gradually stop producing estrogen and progesterone, and this in turns stops periods. The menopause is generally said to have started when periods have stopped for one year or more. The age and symptoms will differ by person, but most women will be aged 45-55 and symptoms can last between 2 to 5 years. Some women may have no problems – both mentally and physically – during the menopause at all, whereas others are not so lucky.
This happens to many women, lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes. You may feel suddenly very hot, and your face and neck may go red. You might feel hot all over, or just the upper half of your body and your heart may beat faster than normal. The intensity can vary too. It’s thought that hormonal changes are to blame. Menopause treatment options for this symptom can be natural, with black cohosh and evening primrose oil reputed to help, though prescription drugs can also be obtained from your doctor. Acupuncture has also helped in some menopause studies.
Related to hot flashes, night sweats are where you wake up in the night, freezing cold, covered in sweat and with a fast-beating heart. Unsurprisingly, hormone changes are responsible, as changing estrogen levels react with a brain hormone called norepinephrine and with brain receptors. In short, the brain becomes confused by the changing hormone levels and sets off a chain of events designed to cool the body down. The best medical advice is to breathe deeply, and to try and recognize triggers and avoid them. Spicy food, for example, can be responsible for both hot flashes and night sweats. On a practical level, if you’re finding yourself waking up a lot in the night uncomfortable and covered in perspiration, try keeping a dish of cool, iced water by your bed for easy access. Have a flannel in this and, when you wake up in the night, dab your pulse points with the chilled cloth; easily accessible pulse points include the wrists, temples, neck, inner elbows and feet.
Anxiety or depression
This is another unwelcome symptom of inward changes in hormone production. Mood changes can vary from irritability or feelings of sadness, to a few bad days, up to severe depression. Many women liken the mood swings to having permanent PMS. Exercise and a healthy diet is the best way to deal with it day to day, as are calming activities such as yoga and meditation. Avoiding sources of stress and breaking down tasks into manageable chunks will also help. Natural menopause treatment options like the herbal remedy St John’s Wort may also make a difference, though you should consult a doctor if a mood slump stubbornly refuses to budge.
Vaginal dryness and decreased libido
Less estrogen and progesterone can cause physical changes including a lack of moisture in the vaginal walls, which can make intercourse painful. There are gentle lubricants that can help improve comfort, and prescription creams that provide estrogen to the local area. As a result of the hormone changes, you may also suffer from a slow orgasmic response, or none at all – prescription and over-the-counter medications are available that can help counteract these symptoms. The lack of progesterone and estrogen in the body also causes a loss of fatty tissue and collagen elsewhere, so it can lead to changes in skin and hair, too.
Decreased bone density
This is a long term symptom of the menopause – while everyone experiences slower bone cell production and reduced bone minerals as they get older, unfortunately this process is exacerbated for women post-menopause. It can mean an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. HT can be an effective menopause treatment option against this.
Disease of the blood vessels or heart is another type of illness that post-menopausal women stand a higher chance of developing. This is because older women are more likely to have blocked arteries.
Although the menopause is a natural event and is not a medical problem that requires treatment, some women find the symptoms affect their lives to the extent that help is needed make them more manageable. HT – or hormone therapy – is where estrogen is taken alone (ET) or with progestogen (EPT). The intention is not to replace the lost hormones, but to provide enough to relieve the symptoms of the menopause. This treatment can have side effects including an increased risk of blood clots and a small increased risk of certain cancers, so it’s advised to be taken in as small doses and for as short a time as possible. Other hormone therapies may contain androgens (testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone), which are actually ‘male’ hormones.
Some of the most effective menopause treatment options can be those you try yourself. Regular exercise can help the body cope with change better, and relaxation techniques like meditation can be a great way to reduce stress levels in general. If you are experiencing hot flashes, then wearing lighter clothing may help, and ‘wicking’ pajamas may help with night sweats. Also, try to go to bed at the same time every night, so your body builds a routine.
There are natural remedies available that can help the body to deal with the menopause. Soy foods are recommended, as is flaxseed. Supplements of vitamin E have been demonstrated to help some women deal with hot flashes. Ginseng can help mood and sleep issues. Also, black cohosh, evening primrose oil and red clover can help alleviate symptoms, though this hasn’t been scientifically proven. Make sure you check with your doctor first before taking any new supplements, and especially if you are already on HT. Even natural supplements may have side effects.
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