Hot flashes. Sleepless nights. Weight gain. Pain during sex. Although the symptoms of menopause don’t change from generation to generation, treatment does. Today’s care is made for all of you -- body and mind.
“Research in the last 5 years has changed our approach. The focus used to be on counting hot flashes, but doctors realized that we needed to look at this more holistically and in terms of quality of life,” says Janet Pregler, MD, director of the Iris Cantor-UCLA Women’s Health Center.
Menopause simply means the end of menstruation for one year. As a woman ages, there is a gradual decline in the function of her ovaries and the production of estrogen. Around the time a woman turns 40, this process speeds up. This transition is known as perimenopause.
Women typically menstruate for the last time at about 51 years of age. A few stop menstruating as young as 40, and a very small percentage as late as 60. Women who smoke tend to go through menopause a few years earlier than nonsmokers...
Pregler says a type of mental health counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy can help women with troublesome hot flashes who couldn’t take hormone therapy because they had breast cancer. Six weeks of counseling improved the women’s mood, sleep, and general sense of well-being, even though the number of hot flashes didn’t change.
“Treating menopause isn’t just about treating symptoms. It’s about how you think about menopause and react to those symptoms,” Pregler says.
Working out can help a lot, says Becky Lynn, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Louis University. “There are so many reasons to exercise -- healthy weight, mood swings, better sleep. Go for aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up.”
Losing weight can also help. “Back in the '80s and '90s, it was thought that being at a higher weight protected you from hot flashes. Now we know it’s the opposite,” Pregler says. Women with extra pounds have more issues with that symptom, she says.
Some tricks your mother might've used still work, though. For hot flashes you can:
Dress in layers.
Keep a fan with you.
Eat ice pops or sip cold drinks.
Eating right becomes more important at this stage of life, says Christine Soutendijk, MD, clinical assistant professor at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. “You have to pay a lot more attention to what you put into your body and how you take care of it than you did before. Are you balancing fruits, vegetables, and protein? Are you drinking enough water?”
Sleep problems can be tricky, because they can make other symptoms of menopause worse, like trouble staying focused. Try these tips if you have a hard time dozing off:
Get out of bed and go into another room.
Do something quiet that doesn’t require a lot of thinking.
Skip caffeine after noon.
Pass on alcohol in the evening.
Don’t take afternoon naps, even if you’re tired.
Stay away from phone or computer screens.
Ask your doctor about the supplement melatonin.
Use sheets that wick, or pull, moisture away from your skin.