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It's Not Your Mother's Menopause

Get ready for today's modern, more optimistic approach to life during -- and after -- menopause
By Mary Jo DiLonardo
And Hilary Parker
WebMD Feature

Menopause symptoms, like hot flashes and drop in sex drive, haven't changed. But the way women deal with menopause has.

"Women are becoming more accepting of the physical and emotional challenges that are associated with menopause and accepting them as natural, transitional changes," says Karen Giblin. She's the founder of Red Hot Mamas, a national menopause education program. "They're focusing on feeling good and looking at menopause more positively."

Recommended Related to Menopause

Understanding Menopause -- Symptoms

Not all women experience symptoms prior to or following menopause, which is defined as the time when a woman has naturally ceased having menstrual periods for one year. If menopausal symptoms occur, they may include hot flashes, night sweats, pain during intercourse due to vaginal dryness, and increased anxiety or irritability.  

Read the Understanding Menopause -- Symptoms article > >

Those Famous Menopause Symptoms

Technically menopause means not having a period for 1 year. But the word is often used to describe the changes taking place as a woman nears the end of her reproductive years. Every woman goes through menopause differently. Experts say about 75% of women have menopause symptoms. About 20% to 25% get treatment for those symptoms.

Signs of menopause often start during perimenopause, the time leading up to menopause.

Changes in sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone during perimenopause and menopause can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Irregular periods
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Worse PMS
  • Sleep problems
  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Joint pain 
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings

Lower levels of estrogen also can affect the heart and bone density.

Manage Menopause Symptoms: Lifestyle Changes

Around the time of menopause, many women are busy working and taking care of teenagers and aging parents. That can mean they're not eating right, exercising, or getting enough sleep. All that stress can make it harder to handle changes in your body.

But there are many things you can do to improve symptoms.

Regular, weight-bearing aerobic exercise, such as walking and jogging, can protect your heart and bones. Add some strength training for even more bone protection. To help you sleep better, exercise at night, unless you find it makes it harder to drift off. You also can try yoga or Pilates to help ease stress.

Exercise may also help with problems in the bedroom.

"Staying fit for both partners helps, but particularly women, because if they feel good about themselves they are more likely to feel more sexual," says Margery Gass, MD. She is director of the University Hospital Menopause and Osteoporosis Center, University of Cincinnati. "It's important for women to maintain regular sexual activity as they get older, too."

A healthy diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D may also help you control symptoms and avoid extra pounds that sometimes come with menopause. Also, try to skip spicy foods, red wine, and hot drinks -- that may help ease hot flashes.

Yoga, deep abdominal breathing, and acupuncture may help with hot flashes, too.

Ease Symptoms of Menopause: Modern Medicine

At some point, you may want to talk to your doctor about medical treatment.

  • Symptom Relief. Hormone therapy is the most effective way to ease symptoms of hot flashes and vaginal dryness and make it easier to get through the day. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks. Other treatments may also be available.
  • Boosting Sex Drive. Estrogen creams and non-estrogen prescription medications may ease vaginal dryness and ease painful sex, but there's still no perfect medical solution to fix your sex drive. Be patient and communicate with your partner.
  • Sleep difficulty. Talk with  your doctor about sleep aids.
  • Osteoporosis Prevention. Your doctor may do tests to figure out how dense your bones are and the chances that you can get a fracture. The doctor may suggest bone-building medication based on those test results.

 

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