The Biggest Transition Since Adolescence
Menopause is often considered the biggest transition since adolescence. The definition of natural menopause is 12 months with no menses (period). Surgical menopause occurs when a women has her ovaries surgically removed before going 12 months with no menses. The average age of natural menopause is 51.4 years.
Perimenopause describes the transitional years leading into menopause. The perimenopause occurs most commonly during a woman’s 40s and can consist of irregular menses, hormonal fluctuation causing hot flashes and night sweats, sleep disturbances, mood symptoms and vaginal dryness.
The further a woman goes without menses, the more likely she will experience these menopausal symptoms. The symptoms can vary greatly, but 80 percent of women will have some degree of hot flashes. The peak of symptoms is typically within the first year of the menses stopping.
Long-term consequences of estrogen deficiency that occurs in menopause include bone loss, cardiovascular disease, dementia, osteoarthritis, changes in body composition and skin changes.
Women going through menopause have many options. For those who are fortunate to have only mild to moderate menopausal symptoms, the recommendations are lifestyle adjustments. Stress, alcohol (especially wine), caffeine, hot drinks, spicy foods and sometimes sugar can exacerbate menopausal symptoms. Minimizing or eliminating one or all can improve symptoms. Dressing in layers, using fans and always having a cool beverage on hand can also help.
For those having moderate to severe menopausal symptoms interfering with life, there are hormonal and non-hormonal options. There are many supplements that can help but some are estrogenic in nature, so this should be discussed with your gynecologist before starting. Some antidepressants have been shown to help with hot flashes and are useful in patients in whom estrogen is contraindicated (breast cancer and blood clot patients). Lastly, hormone replacement therapy is still a viable option for many women with severe symptoms. There are many options available, including bioidentical combinations, but potential risks exist, and a consultation to review the pros and cons with your gynecologist is a must.
Remember, time is your friend. Things do get better, just as they did in adolescence.
Annapolis OB-GYN Associates has four convenient locations in Annapolis, Kent Island, Waugh Chapel and Pasadena. Call 410-573-9530 or visit www.annapolisobgyn.com for more information.