Menopause: What it is, What to do
Every woman knows that if she lives long
enough, she will go through menopause, the "change of life." But what
is it? What should we expect, and when should we expect it? And, perhaps most
importantly, what can we do to make this transition as physically and
emotionally comfortable as possible?
What Is Menopause?
The word menopause comes from the Greek and
Latin words for "moon" and "stop," and refers to the ending of
a woman's menstrual cycle, viewed by some throughout history to be influenced
by the moon. The moon may or may not affect our periods, but estrogen most
As we age, our bodies begin to produce less
estrogen, resulting in irregular or nonexistent menstruation. This can also
occur after removal of the uterus and both ovaries and is then called a
surgical menopause. Non-surgical menopause usually occurs around the age of 50,
give or take five years. It is not impossible, however, for it to happen as
early as age 35 or as late as age 60.
Signs of Menopause
You may experience only some of these
symptoms, or even none at all.
- Hot flashes (up to 20 times a day)
- Mood swings
- Irregular, heavy or light menses
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Night sweats
- Decreased sexual desire
- Vaginal dryness
- Increased bladder infections
Health Risks and Replacement Therapy
Once it has been determined that your
symptoms are those of menopause, you will want your physician's assistance to
determine whether your newly lowered estrogen level will increase your risks
for health problems such as osteoporosis or heart disease.
If it is determined that your risks are
increased, you may wish to begin estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) or hormone
replacement therapy (HRT). These treatments have their pros and cons, and
should be discussed carefully with a health care provider before making a
decision. You will want to take into consideration such things as age, race,
family and personal health history. If you have had certain types of cancer or
liver disease, for instance, you should not take estrogen.
Regular exercise and calcium supplements may
prove to be a better way to prevent osteoporosis in some cases.
Coping with the Early Stages of Menopause
- During the day, light-colored clothing made of natural
fibers and/or clothing worn in layers can help lessen hot flashes.
- A portable fan can provide additional comfort.
- At night, caffeine and hot, spicy foods should be
- Sleeping nude or in cotton pajamas can help reduce night
- Vaginal lubricants may alleviate any vaginal discomfort or
dryness you may experience during intercourse.
- Support groups for women who have been or are going through
menopause may be a comfort.
Other than dealing with the side effects of
menopause, life should continue pretty much as it did before. Continue to use
birth control if you do not wish to become pregnant until you have been assured
by a doctor that you can no longer conceive.
Many women find that post-menopausal life
(approximately one year after their last period) is liberating because there is
no longer a need to be concerned about pregnancy or menstruation -- and there
is more time to focus attention on new areas of health and