Menopause doesn’t have to decrease your quality of life. Stay aware of the signs and prioritize care to make the most of your treatment options.
At some point, every woman will experience menopause, the change in reproductive health. During childbearing years, a woman’s body produces estrogen and progesterone from the ovaries, which aid in reproductive health. Due to aging, the levels of these hormones typically diminish. This usually begins in a woman’s 40s but could begin at an even earlier age. This period is called perimenopause. Full menopause is typically characterized as a full loss of the
menstrual cycle for a full year and may occur in the 50s. And finally, post-menopause is used to describe the subtle changes that occur following menopause.
Changes and challenges
Menopause can be a challenging time for many women depending on the number and severity of symptoms she may experience. These symptoms include changes in vasomotor symptoms (VMS). VMS include hot flashes and night sweats, ranging from mild to severe. A majority of women will experience these during the transition from perimenopause to menopause.
But VMS are not the only symptoms women may experience. In fact, there may be as many as 30 more symptoms experienced by women. There may be changes in sleep patterns, fatigue, irritability and weight gain, hair loss, memory challenges, depression, skin changes and bloating, and more.
The loss of estrogen can also result in changes in vaginal health. Often, women report an increase in vaginal dryness. This is from a reduction in the naturally occurring lubrication found within the vagina. As a result, this can be uncomfortable and cause pain during sex.
Further, at NAFC, we hear from women about the loss of bladder control, as this loss in estrogen can cause the muscles of the vaginal wall to weaken and be less elastic, increasing the likelihood of stress urinary incontinence (SUI). SUI is characterized by an increase in bladder leakages due to a change (increase) in abdominal pressure from laughing, sneezing, or lifting a heavy object (like a child). This situation is unfortunately one of the least covered consequences of menopause and can have real quality-of-life implications.
Put your comfort and care first
The good news is there are options to help improve or eliminate many of these symptoms. For those suffering with SUI, pelvic floor exercise has been shown to potentially make a big difference. In addition, working with a pelvic floor physical therapist may provide even greater results. And there are new exercise devices that can measure, monitor, and track improvements in pelvic-floor strengthening.
A good first step is to discuss symptoms and severity with a physician. There are medications, including hormone replacement, that have been shown to be very effective at minimizing many of the symptoms. Additionally, there are third-line therapies like sacral neuromodulation and percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation. While the names are scary, the procedures are minimally invasive and can produce real results.
And, of course, good diet, exercise, and sleep hygiene can go a long way to helping manage symptoms. Remember, menopause is a normal part of aging, but should not impact quality of life — and there may be a benefit or two. Many women find the loss of menstruation and occasional PMS liberating.
For more information on menopause and the various treatment options, please visit NAFC.org.