December 17, 2017

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What Women Want to Know about Menopause

MenopauseAs women age, so do their reproductive systems.  There comes a time in which a woman is no longer considered to be in her child bearing years; this period is called menopause.

What is menopause?

Menopause is the point in time when the ovaries quit working and there is no more estrogen in the system.  Once this happens, a woman will no longer have periods. I tell my patients that if it has been six months since they have had a period, they are most likely in menopause.

Once you are in menopause, you are at the time when the ovaries aren’t working and you stay that way for the rest of your life.  At that point you aren’t going through anything anymore, you are there.  Menopause is the destination and the “transition period” is the journey to that destination.

The “transition period”

A lot of women have symptoms during the time which we call the “transition” period. During menopause transition, the ovaries are not working as well as they should.  They are somewhat like a light bulb that’s burning out. It flickers; it goes on for a while then goes off for a while.  During this time, women can expect to have intermittent symptoms like irregular bleeding patterns and irregular periods.  They may have 2-3 months with no period and then get a really heavy period; it is also common to experience hot flashes during this time.

What are the symptoms and what can you do?

During the transition period, your hormones will start to fluctuate.  Because of this, women commonly experience hot flashes which can become uncomfortable to deal with.  Being active helps to relieve symptoms and you might want to make sure that when you go places, you have plenty of layers of clothing.  You might be really hot and need to take off a few layers and then you might find that you need to put those layers back on.  Having a fan available will also help because there will be times when you feel a little flushed and if you can get some air moving around you, it will help to make you feel better.

Some women try supplements, such as soy or other natural foods, but none of them really work much better than to provide placebo effects.  You are really best off focusing on layering your clothing and moving air around.  If your symptoms get too severe to tolerate and they significantly affect your ability to sleep or function during the day, hormone therapy can be a safe and effective option.

I often get asked about bladder problems associated with menopause.  There really isn’t a specific problem around menopause but certainly as you get older you can develop some increased problems with sense of urge or increased frequency; sometimes that is related to a change in hormones but most of the time it is not.  Skin can also start to lose it’s elasticity in menopause, so wrinkling and dryness of the skin can become a little more prominent.

How long does the transition period last?

The thing to remember is that everyone is unique and the length of time during the transition period will vary from one woman to another as will symptoms.  The transition period can start when a woman is in her mid-40s and last for 8-10 years. Also, not every woman will experience symptoms during the transition period, some women just simply stop having a menstrual cycle and go right to menopause. It is completely unpredictable.

Are there any heredity factors?

Most of the time, menopause is unique from one woman to another. However if everyone in your family went through menopause early, there is a chance that you might go through it early as well, but it is not a guarantee. It is really difficult to predict what menopause is going to be like based on what your sisters or your mother have experienced.

Will menopause affect my sex life?

If your sex drive was normal and you were sexually active before menopause, you should comfortably be able to continue.  You might experience some vaginal dryness after 3-6 months of being in menopause and can expect to lose some lubrication.  You might also develop a lack of elasticity in the vagina so it can become more uncomfortable to have intercourse; lubricants can help.

If you have any other questions or concerns about menopause, talk to your healthcare provider at your next visit.  You can also visit The North American Menopause Society.