Menopause, strictly speaking, is when you stop having periods, but it is usually identified once it has been a year since your last period. When you’ve reached menopause, your body’s hormonal mix shifts. Both men and women produce the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone testosterone. At menopause the ovaries begin producing more testosterone and less estrogen, and their egg production shuts down.
The changes in hormone levels begin before a woman has her last period and can cause a range of physical symptoms, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and sleep problems. For many women, this natural shift in the body passes with little notice. For others, including those who’ve had ovaries removed surgically, menopause symptoms can be dramatic.
The heat is on
Most people think of hot flashes when they think of menopause, and it’s certainly among the hallmark symptoms. Here’s a typical description: Suddenly you’re way too hot and feel as though someone turned up the thermostat. It’s not just a little bit, but like the Sahara desert in mid-summer. You might turn red in the face and chest and may perspire a little bit or be drenched in sweat. Some women may also experience heart palpitations and a feeling of anxiety along with a hot flash.The intensity of a hot flash, how it affects each woman, how often, and where it strikes first on the body varies,to help manage hot flashes, try avoiding hot and spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol — they can trigger hot flashes for some women. Yoga, meditation, or other relaxation techniques may help, too. If you smoke, you have another good reason to stop — those cigarettes may be contributing to your hot flashes.
Another typical symptoms is difficultys sleeping . 35 and 60 percent of postmenopausal women have wrestled with sleep problems, according to a review of Menopause studies by a panel of experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Some studies suggest that night sweats — the middle-of-the-night version of hot flashes — may be one of the reasons that menopausal women awaken at night and can’t get back to sleep.
If you have trouble sleeping, here are a few things that may help: Cut back on caffeine, especially before bedtime, and get some exercise every day. Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, imagining a peaceful, sleepy scene, or progressive muscle relaxation. You can probably find relaxation tapes and books at your local bookstore.
Studies also show that after menopause many women experience vaginal dryness and pain or discomfort with sexual intercourse. Researchers have linked the changes in vaginal cells they observe under a microscope with lower estrogen in women who experience this complaint. With less estrogen, the tissue in and around the vagina becomes thinner, which could also cause discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse. In a study of more than 1,000 postmenopausal women, half reported problematic vaginal dryness, a third reported itching, and 40 percent of sexually active women reported painful intercourse.
Over-the-counter vaginal lubricants such as Astroglide or K-Y jelly can help with vaginal dryness. If they don’t do the trick, talk to your doctor about whether vaginal estrogen may be right for you.
Estrogen helps maintain healthy bones, so it makes sense that the slowdown in estrogen production that occurs in menopause can be unwelcome news for your bones. According to the National Institute on Aging, women lose more bone than they replace during menopause. In time, this could result in weakened, brittle bones that are characteristic of osteoporosis. Your doctor can tell you if you should have a bone density test to gauge your risk of osteoporosis and can give you some tips on how to prevent or treat it.
Menopause and Aging
Some women sail through menopause without much stress, while for others the physical symptoms — whether attributable to menopause itself or aging — can be pretty unpleasant at times. Getting plenty of exercise and eating a balanced diet can help you stay healthy and ease the way into your later years — and may even lessen the severity of some menopausal symptoms. But if you feel overwhelmed and in need of some relief, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
When levels drop, serotonin levels also fall, which contributes to increased irritability, anxiety and sadness. “Falling estrogen and progesterone levels can trigger mood swings that make you less able to cope with things you’d normally let roll off your back.listening to music and playing games can ease the severity of depression.