For women between the ages of 40 and 60, menopause is a normal part of aging. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with this mid-life transition so that it doesn’t have to become a crisis.
What is menopause? By definition, menopause is when a woman’s menstrual cycle has ceased for 12 months in a row. A woman can be perimenopausal for one to five years before menopause takes place. Symptoms such as hot flashes, decrease in sex drive, migraines, urinary incontinence, weight gain, even changes in nails can occur.
September is National Menopause Awareness Month. Amy Loden, MD, Washington University internist and certified menopause practitioner at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital recommends seven tips for women navigating their way through this time in their life.
Raising the bar on your activity level can make a difference when it comes to the menopause symptoms of mood swings, sleep and weight gain, Dr. Loden says. Your core, cardio and strength-training are the three areas where focusing a moderate-intensity exercise level can have important benefits.
What is healthy vs. what is convenient is a constant struggle, but the benefits of eating healthy will pay off in the long run, Dr. Loden says. Avoid simple carbohydrates, such as pasta and white bread. Instead try including more complex carbs, like legumes and whole grains. Doing this and adding five servings of fresh produce to your daily diet can help your body stay in balance and reduce night sweats.
Before bedtime, turn the thermostat down a few notches, so that if hot flashes arrive in the middle of the night you are prepared to keep your cool. Dr. Loden also recommends layering or wearing lighter-weight pajamas so you can be more comfortable and get better rest.
There is no good science behind the claims and these types of quick fixes can be dangerous, Dr. Loden says.
Stay mentally active and keep your brain sharp by doing crossword puzzles, even paint by numbers. Dr. Loden says that many women say some brain haziness occurs, which can be very frustrating. Occasionally misplacing keys or not being able to remember parts of a recent conversation can be common. What is important is to do things to stay mindful.
The risk of heart disease in women increases for all of us as we age. Studies have shown an increase in heart attacks among women about 10 years after menopause.
Some risk factors increase around the time of menopause. Blood pressure starts to go up. LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol, tends to increase while HDL, or good cholesterol declines or remains the same. Triglycerides, certain types of fats in the blood, also increase.
A decline in estrogen may be a factor in heart disease risk after menopause. Estrogen helps arteries be more flexible and strengthens their interior walls. However, the American Heart Association does not recommend using postmenopausal hormone therapy because some studies have shown it appears to not reduce the risk of heart disease.
Most women don’t need hormone therapy for symptom relief, however there is a group of women who will benefit from hormone therapy due to significant menopausal symptoms causing functional decline and decreased quality of life. Women who think they could benefit should talk to a menopause expert who will review their medical history and make specific treatment recommendations
Women don’t talk about pain in intercourse, vaginal dryness or low libido and they should, Dr. Loden says. These symptoms are all a part of the aging process and can be discussed with their physician. It’s also important to keep in mind that women ages 40 to 55 have the second highest rate of unplanned pregnancy. Because their periods aren’t as regular, some women stop using contraceptives without realizing there is still a chance of pregnancy.
If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms or what to know more, Dr. Loden’s practice – Washington University Complete Care is accepting new patients, with same-day appointments available. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Loden or another specialist, call 314.542.WEST (9378) or toll-free 844.542.9378 or request a call for an appointment.