Hot flashes, sleep problems, night sweats and mood changes are all early symptoms that our bodies are changing seasons of life. Many of us began our menstrual cycle around age 10 or 11, and now as we approach our 40s or 50s, it is finally coming to an end. For some women, this may be an exciting time, but others may not see the thrill in the change of life. While menopause is often misunderstood, it is also often unspoken of outside of a doctor’s office. So what causes our body to change? And, what can be done about it? Let’s walk through it together. It’s not as scary as you may think.
First, it’s important to note a natural decline of natural reproductive hormones. On average, a woman’s period has been absent for several months up to a year. The ovaries, which are located in the pelvis, release one egg each menstrual cycle until menopause. At that time, the ovaries start to produce less estrogen and progesterone, which causes a woman’s fertility to decline. Once a woman enters and passes through this stage of life, they have to beware of osteoporosis, which makes the bones brittle. Estrogen assists in bone health, and when the body stops producing as much of it, it may cause this debilitating disease.
Another cause of menopause may be chemotherapy and radiation. It’s not something we often we think about, but hot flashes may occur after the treatment. Often a woman’s menstrual cycle will stop temporary when they are enduring cancer treatments, which may include surgery or hormone treatments. Having regular periods is considered to be premenopausal, while having periods every now and then is perimenopausal. Chances are great, however, that your period will return once you are out of treatment.
Premature menopause may also be a reason your menopause has started. In this case, a woman is experiencing menopause before the age of 40. This may result from ovarian insufficiency, which is when your ovaries fail to produce normal levels of reproductive hormones. Premature menopause may be indicated by infrequent or irregular periods. It may also be brought on by periods that are lighter or heavier than usual. A woman’s doctor may suggest hormone therapy for these patients until they get to the average age of menopause, which is usually around 50. This therapy is to protect the brain, heart and bones—and to ensure you age well into this next phase of life.
There are also several symptoms that come with menopause. One of the most common symptoms is a hot flash. This is a quick feeling of heat and may often lead to sweating. The most common reason it happens is that the blood vessels close to the skin’s surface dilate to cool. In addition, some women may have an excellerated heart rate or chills. These are all red flags to menopause, so it’s best to not ignore them. Furthermore, memory problems may also occur with menopause. At this stage in your life, it’s important to keep your brain active. Many women take up a hobby take up a hobby to keep their minds sharp. This may include such hobbies as crochet, knitting or even a sport. Also, there are fun brain games such as sudoku, word puzzles or crosswords.
Sleep problems may also occur after menopause. Hot flashes and night sweats can make it difficult to sleep. In fact, many menopausal women have daytime drowsiness that interferes with their daily tasks. In order to combat this insomnia, a doctor may prescribe estrogen in a pill form, a patch or a vaginal cream. This may or may not be prescribed with progesterone, but women should seek caution. If they use this medication long-term, it could lead to breast cancer or heart disease.
Similar to premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause can send a woman on a roller coaster of emotions. For awhile, it may be as if they are still on their cycle—symptom-wise, at least. For instance, the woman may feel irritable, anxious or a lack of motivation. They may have interests that have now gone astray. It’s important for each woman to have a good support system that builds them up and gets them motivated again. When they have feelings of sadness or aggressiveness, someone needs to be there to boost up their spirits. Because let’s face it, ladies—going through something like this is not easy!
While your body may seem like it’s in a sauna, there are ways to treat your symptoms. First, manage a good exercise routine. Walking around the neighborhood will help limit your hot flashes. This lowers the amount of circulating follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week. This is going to help maintain your weight as well. Furthermore, it’s important to eat a diet wealthy in fruits and vegetables. Lean proteins are always better than alternative meats, such as those that are fried. In essence, it’s always smart to stay away from sweets and sugary foods. These are going to prevent you from gaining weight during menopause and help you stay active as well.
It’s important to realize that menopause isn’t a one-size-fits-all event. It’s the end of a woman’s child-bearing years, and each woman will respond to this differently. Some enter menopause and it doesn’t affect them, while menopause makes a direct impact on others. However, compare it to the most stressful event in your life. If you came through that okay—chances are you’ll make it through this. There are several types of treatments to keep your body under control as it goes through this new phase. For instance, you may try herbal or hormone therapy. There is also massage therapy to help you relax. Menopause is something all of us have to get through, and it’s nothing we haven’t been through before, really. We’ve had hot flashes and sleep problems with our period, so this shouldn’t be anything new. Your body is just starting a new chapter of life, an you’re along for the ride. Whether or not you’re ready, you better buckle your seat belt!