The menopause transition is a natural part of midlife. The lower amounts of estrogen which occur during menopause cause changes in your body, though this is different for everyone. For some women, the transition goes smoothly. Others find it difficult to cope with symptoms. Don’t suffer in silence. Several strategies - from lifestyle changes to medications – can result in an easier transition.
Besides easing symptoms, medical treatment of menopause can also address conditions related to menopause, such as increased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
As many as 75% of menopausal women in the United States have hot flashes (hot flushes), making this the most common symptom of menopause. A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat rushing to the upper body and face.
- Skin reddens like a blush
- Sweating occurs, sometimes leaving clothes drenched
- Lasts a few seconds, several minutes or longer
- Occurs at any time of the day or night
- May be mild or severe
- Happens a few times a month or several times a day
- Continues for a few months, a few years or not at all
Hot flashes are a nuisance, sometimes embarrassing, and may interfere with daily life. But they are not harmful to your health. That doesn’t mean you should put up with hot flashes. Lifestyle changes and medications can help women cope with this symptom.
Hot flashes can wake women from a deep sleep. The resulting fatigue may be one of the biggest problems you face, as it can affect your mood, health and ability to cope with daily activities. Some women have less rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when you dream. REM sleep makes up about 20% of an adult's normal sleep cycle. Without it, you may wake up feeling tired. Others approaching menopause find it takes longer to fall sleep. Problems with sleep can be addressed through lifestyle and nutrition changes and medications.
Menopause means a slower metabolism and loss of muscle mass, which can expand bellies and increase heart disease risk. Midlife weight gain can be difficult to deal with, but there are strategies that can help, including adding specific exercises, reducing calories, maintaining a healthy diet and drinking more water.
Urinary Tract and Vaginal Changes
The urinary system changes with age. One-third of women experience pelvic floor disorders like incontinence. Some women may need to urinate more often, or experience leakage with coughing, sneezing or laughing. The urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder) can become dry, inflamed or irritated. Women may have an increased risk of bladder infection after menopause.
Loss of estrogen also causes changes in the vagina. Its lining may become thin and dry. These changes can cause pain during sexual intercourse and can also make the vagina more prone to infection, which can cause burning and itching. Behavior modification, physical therapy, medications and surgical procedures address urinary track and vaginal symptoms.
Bone and Heart Risk
Bone loss is a normal part of aging. During menopause, the rate of bone loss increases. Osteoporosis, which can result from bone loss, increases the risk of breaking bones in older women. The bones of the hip, wrist and spine are affected most often. Estrogen produced by women's ovaries before menopause protects against heart attacks and stroke. When less estrogen is made after menopause, women lose much of this protection. The risk of heart attack and stroke then increases.
Lifestyle changes and medications in the form of menopausal hormone therapy (MHT)[link to page] can help mitigate the increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
Menopause does not cause depression. However, the change in hormone levels may make you feel nervous, irritable or tired. These feelings may be linked to other menopausal symptoms, such as lack of sleep. Stress can make the changes of menopause harder to manage. Many women in midlife are also going through major life changes or experience stress related to money or careers. Some women may be watching children leave home and learning to deal with the "empty nest." Others find themselves part of the "sandwich generation," becoming caregivers for their children, grandchildren and aging parents. If you find it hard to cope, talk to your partner, a close friend, a counselor or your doctor.