Your Guide to Menopause
Are There Any Tests for Menopause?
The most accurate way to tell if a woman is in menopause is to watch her menstrual cycles for 12 consecutive months. It helps to keep track of periods and chart them as they become irregular.
Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels will dramatically rise as the ovaries begin to shut down; these levels are checked through a blood test. The drop in estrogen can lead to signs such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and less lubrication.
In addition, the tissue in and around the vagina thins as estrogen drops. The only way to check for this is through a Pap-like smear, but it is rarely done. Thinning of this area can lead to urinary incontinence, painful sex, a low sex drive, and vaginal itching.
Are There Any Treatments to Help the Symptoms of Menopause?
There are a number of treatments for menopause symptoms.
Lifestyle changes. A healthy diet and regular exercise program will help manage menopause symptoms and maintain overall good health. It is also a good idea to finally kick any old, unhealthy habits, such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol. Tips for handling hot flashes include dressing lightly and in layers and avoiding triggers like caffeine and spicy foods.
Prescription medication for hot flashes. Treatment with estrogen and progesterone, called combination hormone therapy (HT) or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), can be prescribed for women who still have a uterus. HT helps symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, and it may help prevent osteoporosis. Estrogen alone is given to women who have had the uterus removed, which is called a hysterectomy. Remaining sexually active may also help to preserve the lining of the vagina.
Many women should not get hormone therapy. This includes women with current or past breast or uterine (endometrial) cancer, blood clots, liver disease, stroke, women who may be pregnant, or women who have undiagnosed vaginal bleeding.
For women who can't or don't want to take hormones, there are other medications to ease symptoms. They include antidepressants, antiseizure drugs, or blood pressure medications to help with hot flashes and mood swings.