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."
If you’ve been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for a while to relieve menopause symptoms, you may be wondering, what now? Should you stop taking it? If so, when? And how do you go about it?
If you are healthy, most experts agree that HRT is safe to use at the lowest dose that helps for the shortest time needed. If you're 59 or older, or have been on hormones for 5 years, you should talk to your doctor about quitting.
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:
Loss of sex drive
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.