Women should start preparing for menopause when they first experience perimenopause, the stage before menopause. Perimenopause typically begins in the 40s but can start as early as the 30s. Women can be proactive about their health and take steps to minimize the side effects of menopause before it occurs.
The following tips are recommended:
- Start exercising in order to prevent the 5-10 pound weight gain typical of menopause. Fluctuations in hormones can contribute to the weight gain.
- Begin pelvic-floor-strengthening exercises such as kegels. Proper kegel exercises contract the pelvic floor muscles, not the abdomen, thighs, or buttocks.
- Do weight-bearing exercises to keep bones strong and to reduce the risk of fractures.
- Develop and maintain good sleep habits.
- Don’t neglect your teeth. Brush twice a day and floss daily to help prevent gum disease, which can affect your cardiovascular health.
- Premenopausal women should consume 1,000-1,200 milligrams of calcium daily.
Menopause is the transition period in a woman’s life when her ovaries stop producing eggs; her body produces less estrogen and progesterone; and menstruation becomes less frequent, eventually stopping altogether.
Symptoms of menopause are caused by changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. The ovaries make less of these hormones over time. The specific symptoms and their significance (mild, moderate, or severe) vary from woman to woman. A gradual decrease in estrogen generally allows your body to slowly adjust to the hormonal changes. Menopause symptoms may last 5 or more years.
Common symptoms of menopause include:
- Heart pounding or racing
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Skin flushing
- Sleeping problems (insomnia)
Other symptoms of menopause may include:
- Decreased interest in sex, possibly decreased response to sexual stimulation
- Forgetfulness (in some women)
- Mood swings, including irritability, depression, and anxiety
- Urine leakage
- Vaginal dryness and painful sexual intercourse
As a result of the fall in hormone levels, changes occur in the entire female reproductive system. The vaginal walls become less elastic and thinner. The vagina becomes shorter. Lubricating secretions from the vagina become watery. The outside genital tissue thins. This is called atrophy of the labia.
Blood and urine tests can be used to measure changes in hormone levels that may signal when a woman is close to menopause or has already gone through menopause. A pelvic exam may indicate changes in the vaginal lining caused by declining estrogen levels. The doctor may perform a bone density test to screen for low bone density levels that occur with osteoporosis.
Treatment with hormones may be helpful if you have severe symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood issues, or vaginal dryness. Discuss the decision to take hormones thoroughly with your doctor, weighing your risks against any possible benefits. Learn about the many options currently available to you that do not involve taking hormones. Every woman is different. Your doctor should be aware of your entire medical history before prescribing hormone therapy (HT).
If you decide that hormone therapy is not the route you want to take, the good news is that you can take many steps to reduce your symptoms without taking hormones:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods
- Dress lightly and in layers
- Eat soy foods
- Get adequate calcium and vitamin D in food or supplements
- Remain sexually active
- See an acupuncture specialist
- Try relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation
- Use water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse
**Please seek medical advice when starting a new diet or exercise regimen.