Menopause is something that all women will experience, but few people (women or men) really understand. You’re not alone if you don’t know much about it, as we’ve had decades of poor mass media coverage and little education on the topic. Below, we will cover what menopause is, what the symptoms are, and ways that you can help ease some of these symptoms.
We have recently added Dr. Christina Jones to the team here at Radish, and she brings with her over 20 years of experience practicing medicine. Dr. Jones specializes in Women’s Health from adolescence to menopause, using holistic medicine techniques and emphasizing preventive care.
Below, she will cover what menopause is, what the symptoms are, and ways that you can help ease some of these symptoms. Keep reading to learn more!
Menopause is defined as the time in a woman’s life, usually between 45 and 55 years of age, when the ovaries stop producing eggs (ovulating) and menstruation ends for one full year. After menopause, a woman can no longer get pregnant. Menopause does not happen suddenly, most women experience several years of changes before they completely stop – this would be defined as peri-menopause. During this time, many women also start to have menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, sleep problems, and/or vaginal dryness. This results from declining levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body.
The average age of menopause is 54 years old. Women who go through menopause before the age of 40 are considered to have abnormally early menopause called premature ovarian failure or primary ovarian insufficiency. If you are 45 years or older and you have not had a menstrual period in 12 months, there is a good chance you have gone through menopause. If you are under 45 and stop having periods or think you may be having symptoms of menopause, schedule an apt with your health care provider to discuss and possibly have testing performed.
After hysterectomy, if they have taken your uterus but have left your ovaries, you will still go through menopause when your ovaries stop producing eggs. This can be hard to determine because you are not having periods. You may develop menopausal symptoms as your ovaries stop producing eggs and your estrogen levels begin to drop. If having bothersome symptoms of menopause then having some simple blood tests can help guide you through this time.
Not all women need treatment for menopause symptoms. If your symptoms are mild, there are things you can try on your own that might help such as herbal remedies, acupuncture, meditation, and yoga. However, for more severe or bothersome symptoms, there are effective treatment options available. Common menopausal or peri-menopausal symptoms can include but are not limited to, hot flashes, night sweats sleep problems, vaginal dryness and depression.
Estrogen is the most common treatment for hot flashes. While there have been concerns in the past about the safety of hormone therapy, for most healthy women who are seeking help with symptoms of menopause, it is safe, low risk, and effective. It should be started before the age of 60 years and is generally given for up to five years post-menopause. Anyone however that still has a uterus must take estrogen with progesterone. If not, unopposed estrogen (taking solely estrogen) can lead to uterine hyperplasia and thus endometrial cancer.
If you don’t need hormone therapy for hot flashes but you do have problems with vaginal dryness, vaginal estrogen can help and is very safe to use. The dose is much lower and does not need to be taken with progesterone. In addition, it only needs to be used once or twice weekly to get excellent results.
Nonhormonal treatment options do include herbal remedies. These are safe and can be quite helpful. They can be broken down into nutritional supplements and diets, and botanical medicines. Botanical medicines can be further broken down into phytoestrogens such as dong quai and ginkgo and nonphytoestrogen herbs such as black cohosh, and Vitex (chaste tree). These herbs and supplements can be easily purchased without a prescription, however, it is recommended to be guided and advised by a health care practitioner.
Menopause does not have to be scary and mysterious. Each case is different and needs full evaluation, exam and possibly blood tests. Eating a well-balanced diet, getting at least 30 minutes daily of exercise and 8 hours of sleep is an excellent place to start.
If you feel as though you would like more information, or if you might be currently experiencing menopause, we encourage you to book an appointment with Dr. Jones and she can further assist you in navigating this time in your life.
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